Mike Fleming

Roger Ebert Russ Meyer MovieEXCLUSIVE: Too often, I reveal projects I feel like I’ve seen before. Occasionally, I write about ones that I know I’m going to want to see. Here’s one of those. How about a feature about the unusual relationship between two icons in their respective fields, film critic Roger Ebert and soft core helmer Russ Meyer, as they teamed to make Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls at 20th Century Fox? Mark Amin’s Sobini Films has partnered with David Permut and Richard Waltzer to acquire Russ & Roger Go Beyond, a script by Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons scribe Christopher Cluess.

The script focus is the late 1960s, when cheap counterculture films like Easy Rider were minting money, and 20th Century Fox was struggling mightily over a number of big-budget flops. Meyer was already established as the outlaw helmer of soft-core pulp films like Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill, and he wanted the legitimacy of making a studio film. Richard Zanuck, then head of 20th, gave him that opportunity because his profit margins were so high and his costs were miniscule.

Meyer agreed to take on Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls on the condition that the script get written by Ebert, who, as the third-string movie critic of the Chicago Sun Times, had written one of the few positive reviews Meyer had ever received. So obviously he liked Roger’s writing. It was all fun from there, as Meyer brought in his usual buxom brigade and he and Ebert struggled with the studio’s board of directors and the ratings board. Despite being the rare major studio release with an X rating, they were vindicated when Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls was released in 1970 to big box office. Meyer and Ebert remained friends until the former passed away in 2004. Ebert, who passed away this year from cancer — he kept writing right till the end — was touchingly feted at the Toronto Film Festival opening-night ceremony before the premiere of The Fifth Estate.

Permut, Amin and Walter are producing with Sobini Films’ Cami Winikoff, Tyler Boehm and David Higgins. Permut Presentations’ Chris Mangano is exec producer and Steve Longi is co-producer. Sobini just finished the Brad Anderson-directed Eliza Graves and Permut Presentations has Alan Ball writing and directing I Am Chippendales. Cluess is repped by UTA and Bruce Brown Management. Here’s a trailer to Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls:

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