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Paramount To Make MLK Pic ‘Selma’; Oprah Winfrey Producing

By | Tuesday February 25, 2014 @ 7:55pm PST
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Big news on the MLK movie front. Paramount is in final negotiations to acquire dr-martin-luther-king-jr-5domestic distribution rights to Selma, a feature drama about Martin Luther King‘s 1965 landmark voting rights campaign regarded as the peak of the civil rights movement, and none other than Oprah Winfrey has boarded the project as producer. Paramount is tying down U.S. and Canadian distribution rights to the film. Ava DuVernay, who came aboard the project in July, rewrote the original script by Paul Webb and slipped it to Winfrey, who sparked to DuVernay’s rewrite. We’ve been waiting for a strong cinematic tribute to the iconic civil rights leader, and this remarkably becomes the second MLK project that Winfrey is involved with. Her Harpo also is behind a seven-part HBO miniseries America: In the King Years. Selma is on a much faster track. The plan is to get rollingParamountLogo_new in front of cameras as soon as possible. Lining up a domestic deal and a name of Winfrey’s caliber were key to getting the ball rolling, and when the deal makes production is expected to start right away. Pathe UK, Brad Pitt’s Plan B and Christian Colson are already aboard as producers.

Winfrey’s presence both on and off the screen was a big reason Lee Daniels’ The Butler traveled so well overseas. The Butler has grossed $167.7 million to date — more than $50M of that internationally. This gives Selma a leg up on the other two major features that are percolating. Oliver Stone last month saw a script rewrite on his MLK biopic rejected by DreamWorks and Warner Bros, and it caused him to back out of the project. Meanwhile, Paul Greengrass still isn’t ready to move on his biopic Memphis that he plans to make with Scott Rudin. 

Related: Fleming Q&As Paul Greengrass On Oscar Contender ‘Captain Phillips’, MLK
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As Oliver Stone And Jamie Foxx Mobilize DreamWorks MLK Pic, Paul Greengrass, Isn’t It High Time For ‘Memphis’?

By | Thursday October 10, 2013 @ 4:52pm PDT
Mike Fleming

Reports are surfacing that DreamWorks is ready to move forward with the authorized version of Martin Luther King‘s life story, the one that MLK’s family is behind and which has the rights to use his copyrighted speeches. They have Jamie Foxx and director Oliver Stone poised for an Any Given Sunday re-team on the project, which they want to do with Warner Bros. All I can think of as director Paul Greengrass and producer Scott Rudin prepare for tomorrow’s opening of Captain Phillips is, Paul, get busy on your MLK film Memphis, because your Oscar-caliber script is just way too good to get relegated to the scrap heap.

I’ve been writing for years about Memphis, Greengrass‘ script about a great man’s final days. It started out at Universal, which put it in turnaround right around the time that the director’s relationship with the studio soured over his unwillingness to do a fourth The Bourne Identity and after he clashed with the studio over the high-budget misfire Green Zone. It became a hot potato project then, when the King family and the activist’s close confidante, Ambassador Andrew Young, objected to it. Among their objections: King is depicted sharing a bed with a woman who was not his wife. The key has always been about opening the film on MLK weekend, and it stalled that first time because they couldn’t set it up again and make it fast enough. They tried again last year, with Veritas in talks to finance with Wild Bunch, but Greengrass instead took on Captain Phillips, the Sony drama about the Somali pirate heist that stars Tom Hanks as Captain Richard Phillips. Rudin joined his Social Network cohorts Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti to deliver a tense, excellent drama.

Related: Opposition To MLK Films Reveals Hard Truths About Biopic Biz

The Memphis script depicts King’s final days as he struggled to organize a protest march on behalf of striking black municipal sanitation workers in Memphis, TN, where he was slain. That storyline is juxtaposed with an intense manhunt for King’s assassin James Earl Ray, involving some of the federal authorities who, at Hoover’s direction, had dogged King’s every step with wiretaps and whispering campaigns before the civil rights leader’s death. The dual narrative is explosive and I don’t know what Kario Salem has written for DreamWorks, but the word biopic makes you worry that it will be reverential and looong. Memphis was a snapshot on parallel with Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday. It is a powerful testament to King’s struggle and his sacrifice, and even if he was portrayed as an imperfect human being, it did not define him. Let’s face it, all those ’60s icons including the Kennedys were not monogamous. Read More »

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CNN Wins Demo For Obama’s MLK Speech On D.C. March 50th Anniversary

By | Thursday August 29, 2013 @ 3:48pm PDT

The Jeff Zucker-run network’s desire to top the cable news heap may still be a dream but CNN did come out on top on Wednesday in one category. CNN was No. 1 among adults 25-54 during President Barack Obama’s remarks yesterday commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s historic “I Have A Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington. The network pulled in 246,000 viewers in the demo during the 12 PM PT hour that saw Obama take the podium. That’s 15,000 more than MSNBC had in the same time slot in the demo and almost 100,000 more than the 150,000 that Fox News Channel garnered. While the NBCUniversal cable news network continues to have a rough ratings ride of late it did manage to draw in more total viewers that either of its main rivals during Obama’s speech. MSNBC had 928,000 total viewers during the Noon to 1 PM PT hour compared to 770,000 for CNN and 713,000 for FNC. That’s a big leap up from the 302,000 total viewers that MSNBC’s The Cycle received on August 21. CNN was also tops among the 25-54s for the first hour of the anniversary coverage at 11 AM PT with 178,000 watching. FNC were a close second with 173,000 and MSNBC were third with 158,000. In … Read More »

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Broadcast Nets To Cover Obama’s MLK Speech On March Anniversary; CNN, MSNBC To Telecast ‘I Have A Dream’

By | Tuesday August 27, 2013 @ 3:44pm PDT

ABC, CBS and NBC said this afternoon they will interrupt regularly scheduled programming tomorrow afternoon to join the cable news networks in carrying live President Obama’s remarks on the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, at which Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. At approximately 2:40 PM ET, NBC anchor Lester Holt and White House Correspondent Chuck Todd will anchor that network’s coverage of Obama’s remarks. At CBS, evening news anchor/managing editor Scott Pelley will lead that network’s coverage of Obama’s speech from the Lincoln Memorial. When Obama speaks from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, ABC News’ Chief National correspondent  Byron Pitts will lead that network’s coverage.

CNN and MSNBC say they will telecast King’s 1963 speech in its entirety. CNN says it will run some time after noon ET (UPDATE: CNN said Wednesday it will air the speech in the 1 PM hour); MSNBC says it will run the speech at approximately 4 PM ET, after Obama’s remarks. MSNBC will repeat the speech, with limited commercial interruptions, during a Chris Hayes-hosted special, All In at 8 PM ET live from Washington.

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Ava DuVernay Now Aboard To Direct MLK Biopic ‘Selma’

By | Thursday July 11, 2013 @ 12:06pm PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: I’ve learned that writer-director Ava DuVernay has been set by Pathe UK, Brad Pitt’s Plan B and producer Christian Colson to helm Selma, a feature drama about Martin Luther King‘s 1965 landmark voting rights campaign regarded as the peak of the civil rights movement. She reportedly has been scouting locations and fine-tuning the script with screenwriter Paul Webb since April, and the producers are eager to get rolling in front of camera before similar MLK-themed projects can do the same. DuVernay was the first black woman to win Best Director at Sundance for her second feature, last year’s drama Middle Of Nowhere. The former publicist apparently was approached by the Selma producers after they saw the microbudgeted indie, which was shot in 19 days in and around LA. She will reunite with her Middle Of Nowhere leading man David Oyelowo (The Butler, Lincoln), who is set to play King in Selma. DuVernay in repped by Paradigm.

Related: OSCARS Q&A: Ava DuVernay

Selma is the project Lee Daniels was attached to direct, but the funding couldn’t come together in time and he subsequently signed on to The Butler, which The Weinstein Company will release August 16 (though maybe not under that title). Daniels had lined up a terrific cast — Oyelowo, Hugh Jackman, Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Robert De Niro, and … Read More »

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Oscar-Nominated 1970 Martin Luther King Doc To Get Special Nationwide Screenings

By | Thursday July 11, 2013 @ 10:38am PDT

EXCLUSIVE: In honor of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and of the March on Washington, Kino Lorber will release a newly restored and re-mastered edition of Oscar-nominated documentary King: A Filmed Record… Montgomery To Memphis. The updated version of the 1970 film will get a special one-night, multi-city screening event on August 28. It will also be presented at BAM’s Rose Cinemas on August 12 and 13. Following that, a special screening will be held at New York City’s Film Forum on August 28, the anniversary of King’s speech. The movie chronicles King’s life and work, from the start of his non-violent campaign for equal rights to his assassination in Memphis in 1968. Celebrity narrators include Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, Ben Gazzara, Charlton Heston, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Anthony Quinn, Clarence Williams III and Joanne Woodward. The doc was produced by Ely Landau and associate produced by Richard Kaplan. It was originally screened as a one-time-only event on March 24, 1970 and went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Documentary Feature and to be selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Foundation. The new screening iniative is in association with Gathr Films and the Regal theater chain.

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Martin Luther King Film ‘Memphis’ Coming Back Around For Paul Greengrass And Scott Rudin

By | Friday November 16, 2012 @ 3:39pm PST
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE… UPDATE: Memphis, Paul Greengrass‘ film about the final days of Dr. Martin Luther King, is coming back around. Now, I hear that steps are underway to make Memphis Greengrass’ next directorial outing. I’ve heard that Veritas is in talks to finance with Wild Bunch. You might recall the picture was shelved after Universal Pictures dropped out, and Greengrass and producer Scott Rudin shelved it because it became too difficult to set up new financing and shoot the film so that it could be released during the MLK weekend holiday. Greengrass and Rudin moved on to make Captain Phillips, the Sony drama about the Somali pirate heist that stars Tom Hanks as Captain Richard Phillips.

Related: Opposition To MLK Films Reveals Hard Truths About Biopic Biz

The script depicts Dr. King’s final days as he struggled to organize a protest march on behalf of striking black municipal sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was slain. That storyline is juxtaposed with an intense manhunt for King’s assassin James Earl Ray, involving some of the federal authorities who, at Hoover’s direction, had dogged King’s every step with wiretaps and whispering campaigns before the civil rights leader’s death. Read More »

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Opposition To Martin Luther King Films Reveals Hard Truths About Biopic Biz

Mike Fleming

Few Hollywood films are as difficult to mount as the biopics of historical figures. From The Hurricane to Malcolm X, A Beautiful Mind to Munich, The Social Network to even the most recent Best Picture Oscar winner The King’s Speech, there is always criticism that the filmmakers have been either too tough or too soft on flawed protagonists. It also isn’t unusual for that criticism to begin in the early script stage, even though screenplays get rewritten and vetted so much that a first or second draft might not reflect what ultimately ends up in the finished film. A recent target was Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, whose script bizarrely was critiqued in The New York Times by a screenwriter who’d done a Hoover film years earlier and thus may have had a vested interest in seeing the new project not best his own. But what happens when the family and friends of a biopic subject get an early look at a script and don’t like what they’ve read? Should studios and/or distributors succumb to such pressure from insiders or ignore them? And what exactly in biopics constitutes fact vs fiction?

Martin Luther King Jr was killed 43 years ago today. Deadline revealed last Friday that Universal Pictures had dropped the Scott Rudin-produced and Paul Greengrass-directed MLK project Memphis. I’d heard that the decision came after the King estate and MLK confidante Andrew Young  applied … Read More »

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DreamWorks Enters WikiLeaks Movie Sweepstakes, Buying Two Major Books

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: DreamWorks has officially entered the derby to turn the story of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks into a feature film. The studio has acquired rights to two books by pivotal players in the WikiLeaks drama. DreamWorks has secured screen rights to Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website, the Crown book by Daniel Domscheit-Berg. He’s the former top WikiLeaks former executive who defected because he wanted WikiLeaks to exercise journalistic discretion instead of the document dump that took place.  ICM brokered that deal. DreamWorks has also bought WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, written by David Leigh and Luke Harding, the two journalists from the UK-based The Guardian who worked with Assange on bringing his first revelations into play through their paper,  as well as Der Spiegel and The New York Times. That book was published by Guardian Books. They detail their dealings with Assange, who at one point hid from the CIA in Leigh’s London house. The book covers the WikiLeaks phenomenon from its 2006 launch onward.

I’m told that DreamWorks executives from Stacey Snider, Steve Spielberg to co-presidents Holly Bario and Mark Sourian, are intrigued enough by the Assange story to cobble together rights that will allow them to attack the story creatively from any of several angles. They are content to gather string, but haven’t hired a writer yet. A good … Read More »

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Universal Steps Up For Paul Greengrass On Martin Luther King Drama ‘Memphis’

By | Wednesday February 23, 2011 @ 11:28am PST
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures will make Memphis, the drama about the assassination of Martin Luther King written and directed by Paul Greengrass. The picture is being produced by Scott Rudin, the Oscar-nominated producer of Best Picture candidates The Social Network and True Grit. Production on the film is slated to begin in June. It reunites the studio with Greengrass, who last made The Green Zone for Uni and who withdrew from making a fourth installment of The Bourne Identity. Even though that last picture came in at a high budget and didn’t succeed at the box office, Greengrass turned in two hit Bourne sequels and the Oscar-nominated United 93.

Memphis steps in front of several pictures that were being mobilized about Dr. King. There is a Ronald Harwood-scripted DreamWorks project that has the backing of King’s heirs, and Selma, an indie that Lee Daniels was working on with funding from The Weinstein Company (that project seems to have stalled completely), and Harpo’s Oprah Winfrey and Kate Forte have an HBO deal for America: In the King Years, a 7-hour miniseries based on the seminal Taylor Branch book series, being adapted  by Robert Schenkkan

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