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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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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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