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An Appreciation Of Louis Zamperini, A True American Hero

Mike Fleming

An Appreciation Of Louis Zamperini, A True American HeroWhat sad pre-holiday news: American Olympian track star and WWII hero Louis Zamperini passed away last night at age 97, just one day short of Independence Day. It’s somehow poignant that Zamperini’s shadow hovers over the July 4th holiday; it comes half a year before the Universal Pictures release of Unbroken, the Angelina Jolie-directed adaptation of the Laura Hillenbrand bestseller about a man whose unwillingness to break despite the most difficult of circumstances in a Japanese POW camp made him the personification of struggle and heroism. Part of that struggle included getting a movie made on his extraordinary life; imagine, Universal’s first attempt at a Zamperini film came in the 1950s, when Tony Curtis sparked to playing Zamperini as his follow-up to Spartacus.

louzzMany know Zamperini’s story because of the superb book by Seabiscuit author Hillenbrand, and the world will celebrate him at year’s end when Universal releases the film in Oscar season, with Jack O’Connell playing Zamperini. I have been obsessed with Zamperini since I saw a segment on his ordeal broadcast by CBS during the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, and have written about the movie at Variety and Deadline since then at the slightest provocation, because it seemed such a worth screen story. When CBS chronicled his story, Zamperini returned to Japan to run with the Olympic torch, covering ground not far from where he spent an unimaginably brutal stretch in a Japanese prison camp … Read More »

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Angelina Jolie To Direct ‘Unbroken’, The Incredible Story Of Lou Zamperini

By | Tuesday December 18, 2012 @ 6:19pm PST
Mike Fleming

Angelina Jolie UnbrokenEXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures and Walden Media are in final negotiations with Angelina Jolie to direct Unbroken, the unbelievable story of Olympian-turned-WWII POW Louis Zamperini. The project, which Universal has developed for going on 55 years, is closer than ever to becoming a reality. Matthew Baer and Erwin Stoff are producing and Mick Garris is exec producer.

For Jolie, this will mark her second film as director after she made her debut on In The Land Of Blood And Honey. This will be her first directing outing on a major studio film. It’s easy to imagine that the world’s biggest female star gets whatever she wants, but I’m told that she campaigned hard for the film against a number of other directors. Universal execs were very impressed with her sophisticated treatment of difficult subject matter. Her detailed take on Zamperini won her this job.

“In her life and in her work, Angelina has embraced stories and causes involving great struggle and triumph over tremendous odds and the basic human condition,” Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley said in a statement. “She has a real ability to illustrate the strength in human spirit which will be essential in telling Lou’s story of survival and great heroism.”

The film has a new script draft by Gladiator and Les Miserables co-writer William Nicholson, who rewrote an earlier draft by Richard LaGravanese. The script is based on Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, the book by Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand which has been on The New York Times bestseller list for over 108 straight weeks. Read More »

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Walden Media Set To Co-Finance Louis Zamperini Film ‘Unbroken’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: After more than 54 years of trying, Universal Pictures is getting closer and closer to telling the unbelievable story of Olympian-turned-WWII POW Louis Zamperini in a feature film. Walden Media has just signed on to co-finance with Universal Pictures the screen adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. The Water for Elephants team of screenwriter Richard LaGravenese and director Francis Lawrence are prepping the story about the unbreakable spirit of Zamperini, the former Olympic track prodigy who endured unimaginable hardship as a WWII POW at the hands of Japanese prison guards. Matthew Baer and Erwin Stoff are producing; Lawrence and Mick Garris are exec producers.

Universal bought Zamperini’s rights back in the 1950s, when Tony Curtis planned to play him right after he completed Spartacus. Zamperini, still kicking at age 93, has waited all this time to see his story turned into a feature film. Baer has been pushing the ball up the hill for more than a decade, but it turned out that the best thing to happen to the project was Hillenbrand’s book, which has drawn a fresh audience to Zamperini’s story of perseverence. Universal previously turned Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit into the Gary Ross-directed hit. In book form, Unbroken blew past Seabiscuit‘s sales figures in its first four weeks, and has been at or near the top of The New York Times bestseller list since its publication six months ago. Read More »

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Richard LaGravenese To Adapt Lou Zamperini Survival Tale ‘Unbroken’ From Laura Hillenbrand Book

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has set Richard LaGravenese to adapt Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Francis Lawrence is attached to direct the film about the unbreakable spirit of Louis Zamperini, the former Olympic track prodigy who endured unimaginable hardship as a WWII POW at the hands of Japanese prison guards.

LaGravenese will be working for the second straight time with Lawrence on a book adaptation. The scribe adapted the Sara Gruen novel Water For Elephants into the drama that Lawrence directed for Fox 2000 with Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz starring. Matthew Baer and Erwin Stoff are producing Unbroken. Lawrence and Mick Garris are exec producers.

The studio acquired Unbroken after previously turning Hillenbrand’s book Seabiscuit into the Gary Ross-directed hit. Unbroken, which has been at or near the top of The New York Times bestseller list for 18 weeks, outsold Seabiscuit in its first four weeks. It also gave momentum to a movie about Zamperini, something Universal first tried to make in 1957, when the studio optioned his rights for a movie that was going to star Tony Curtis. Read More »

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Universal Buys Laura Hillenbrand WWII Bestseller ‘Unbroken’ For Francis Lawrence

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has acquired screen rights to Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling new book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The studio is in talks with Francis Lawrence to direct, and wants Crazy Heart helmer Scott Cooper to write the script. Lawrence, best known for helming I Am Legend, just completed Water for Elephants for Fox 2000, with Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz starring.

The studio that rode Hillenbrand’s book Seabiscuit into the winner’s circle as a film now hopes she’ll work the same magic on the story of the unbreakable spirit of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic track prodigy who endured unimaginable hardship as a WWII POW. The deal, worth 7-figures if the movie gets made, gives an important second wind to a project that Universal has been trying to make for more than 50 years. Matthew Baer and Erwin Stoff will produce. Filmmaker (and Zamperini’s son-in-law) Mick Garris is exec producer.

Hillenbrand’s Random House book, currently number 2 on The New York Times bestseller list, fleshes out Zamperini’s survival story in remarkable detail. As a youth, Zamperini transformed from a Depression Era troublemaker into the “Torrance tornado,” a world class runner who became the youngest American to compete on the U.S. team. He ran in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games and though he didn’t medal, Zamperini ran a final lap so fast that Adolf … Read More »

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