Antonio Banderas will play Mario Sepulveda, aka Super Mario, in The 33, the feature version of the saga of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days in 2010. Martin Sheen and Rodrigo Santoro are also joining the ensemble. Mike Medavoy secured the miners’ exclusive life rights last year and developed the project in collaboration with the men, their rescuers and their families. Patricia Riggen (La Misma Luna) will direct with production scheduled to begin in the fall. Good Universe is handling international sales. Medavoy and Edward McGurn are producing with Carlos Eugenio Lavin and Leopoldo Enriquez exec producing.
EXCLUSIVE: Mike Medavoy, Douglas McKay and Ali Toukan have optioned the Christopher Buehlman literary horror novel Those Across The River. The trio is producing with Akiva Goldsman’s Weed Road, and Tod “Kip” Williams is attached to write the script and direct the film. The book takes place in a small Southern town in Georgia in 1935. A WWI veteran moves there with his new wife after they inherit a home passed down through his family. He intends to write a book about his grandfather, an evil plantation owner, but soon realizes that there are some crazy things going on, including residents that are being killed and eaten. It’s the Depression, and the horror begins after the town abandons a practice of sending two pigs each month across the river, though they’ve never figured exactly what happened to those animals. Williams most recently directed Paranormal Activity 2. The deal was made by Hotchkiss and Associates’ Sean Daily for Folio Literary Management and Elaine Koster Agency. Williams is repped by UTA and 3 Arts.
EXCLUSIVE: Imagine if you’d written a 1974 autobiographical masterpiece of a screenplay about compulsive gambling directed by Karel Reisz and starring James Caan. Imagine also if you just found out it was being remade by writer William Monahan, director Marty Scorsese, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio and no one told you. What is most incredible, and also despicable, is that neither the original studio Paramount nor the original producers Irwin Winkler and Bob Chartoff bothered to reveal they were going back to Toback’s creative well without him. On Saturday, Toback phoned me and asked if he could write about this surreal experience for Deadline Hollywood. Here in its entirety is his sadness and anger mixed with his trademark humor, against the backdrop of the late, great, and heady filmmaking days of that decade:
Close to 3 AM on this past Friday I got my daily call from my friend and LA housemate, Brett Ratner. I was at my desk working on my 22nd revision of the John DeLorean script I was hired by Reliance and Ratner to write with Ratner directing and the legendary Bob Evans producing.
“What are you doing?” Brett asked.
“What do you think?” I said. “This is by far the toughest script to get right of any I’ve written in 35 years.”
“What about The Gambler?”
“That was lightning fast and easy,” I said. “Of course, it was my own story.”
“That’s not what I meant,” he said. “Did you read Nikki Finke?”
“Always,” I said.
“What are you getting at?” I asked.
“She just reported that DiCaprio and Scorsese are remaking The Gambler at Paramount.”
“Not my Gambler!” I said. “That’s not possible! No one said a word to me!”
“Who owns it?” Ratner asked.
“I guess they didn’t have to.”
“Legally, I guess you’re right,” I said.
“Maybe that’s all anyone gives a fuck about: whether something is legal.”
The film in question, The Gambler, was financed and distributed by Paramount in 1974 and directed by the late Karel Reisz. It was derived without a syllable of alteration from the final draft of my blatantly autobiographical original screenplay and starred James Caan as Axel Freed, a City College of NY literature Lecturer whose addiction to gambling overrides every other aspect of his richly diverse life. It might seem odd that my initial response to the news of the purported remake would be something south of “flattered and honored,” but the truth is that my main feeling was one of disbelief that I was learning of these plans at the same time and in the same fashion as any of the regular devoted readers of this column. It struck me as particularly odd since I have been a friend and unlimited admirer of Leonardo’s since our initial encounter in 1994 when we were, in fact, all set to close a deal on his playing the lead in Harvard Man – a deal sabotaged only by Bob Shaye’s overriding the greenlight which Mike DeLuca had conveyed to Jeff Berg and Jay Moloney. Equally odd was not hearing anything from Irwin Winkler who, I was soon to learn, is to be the producer on this projected new version as he was on the original. Perhaps my inability to view this “tribute” as primarily flattering was additionally influenced by a recent and infinitely more felicitous experience which involved remarkably similar circumstances. My movie, Fingers, was remade as a Cesar prize-sweeping film, The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Jacques Audiard, the great French filmmaker who called me from Paris and then flew to New York to discuss Fingers in great detail before redoing it, apparently not sharing the current group’s quaint — if indeed entirely legal –notion that as long as they “own” something — even a movie — they are fully entitled to do whatever they wish to it without even bothering to consult its creator.
Of course, the French have always had an entirely different set of laws and values governing intellectual property based on the poignant notion that a writer’s work cannot be tampered with by anyone even including someone who paid money to take ownership of it. This current experience conjures up memories of a banker who owned Harvard Man and once said to me: “To you this is a movie. To me this is a pair of shoes. My pair of shoes. And I will do whatever I like with it.”
I would like to offer an unexpurgated chronology of the history of The Gambler since the movie seems, after 37 years, to have ignited the energies of all these busy and important people. So here it is, covering all incidents — in the words of Winston Churchill — “from erection to resurrection.”
After graduating from Harvard in 1966 I taught literature and writing in a radical new program at CCNY whose additional faculty included Joseph Heller, John Hawks, William Burroughs, Donald Barthelme, Adrienne Rich, Mark Mirsky and Israel Horovitz. I also wrote articles and criticism for Esquire, Harpers, The Times, The Voice and other publications. Most of all, I gambled — recklessly, obsessively and secretly. It was a rich, exciting double life with heavy doses of sexual adventurism thrown in for good measure. Inspired by the life and work of my literary idol, Dostoyevsky, I embarked on the writing of The Gambler intended originally as a novel. Half way in, it became clear to me that I was seeing and hearing the “novel” as a movie and I abruptly decided to turn it into one. When I hit full stride I felt as if I were a recording secretary, simply putting down on paper dialogue and images I heard and saw as if they were not sounds and pictures at all but rather real life action existing in my brain.
When I finished the script
Mike Medavoy and Doug McKay, Vice-President of Production at Phoenix Pictures, have teamed up with legendary writer Ray Bradbury, RGI Productions’ Rodion Nahapetov (who is penning the screenplay), and producer Natasha Shliapnikoff to produce the feature film adaptation of Bradbury’s classic novel “Dandelion Wine.”
Bradbury, who turns 91 on Monday remarked, “This is the best birthday gift I could ask for. Today, I have been reborn! ‘Dandelion Wine’ is my most deeply personal work and brings back memories of sheer joy as well as terror. This is the story of me as a young boy and the magic of an unforgettable summer which still holds a mystical power over me.”
LOS ANGELES, CA – (JULY 24, 2011) Academy Award-nominated producer Mike Medavoy and representatives of the 33 Chilean Miners, whose remarkable rescue from the San José Mine last year captivated the world’s attention, jointly announced today that they have entered into an agreement to bring the miners’ extraordinary story to the screen. Academy Award-nominated screenwriter José Rivera (MOTORCYCLE DIARIES) is set to adapt. The film will recount the events surrounding the mine’s collapse and the subsequent rescue efforts, which culminated in the emotional retrieval of all 33 miners after 69 days trapped half a mile beneath the surface.
“Like millions of people around the world, I was completely engrossed watching the rescue at Copiapó. At its heart, this is a story about the triumph of the human spirit and a testament to the courage and perseverance of the Chilean people. I can’t think of a better story than this one to bring to the screen,” said Medavoy.
“One year after the collapse of the mine, we consider this to be a great step towards the realization of a film based on our experience in the mine. This is the only official and authorized film about what we lived in the San José mine. Much of our story has never been told,” said miner Juan Andrés Illanes.
Mike Medavoy and Edward McGurn, Medavoy’s Vice-President at Phoenix Pictures, will produce through Medavoy’s recently formed Half Circle banner. Prominent Chilean entrepreneurs Carlos Eugenio Lavín and Leopoldo Enriquez will Executive Produce. Lavin is a childhood friend of Medavoy’s from his years in Chile, and Enriquez is a long time associate.
Mike Medavoy, Shanghai Film Group Team On Dual China-Set WWII Projects ‘The Cursed Piano’ And ‘Tears Of The Sparrow’
The Shanghai Film Group has teamed with Mike Medavoy to make a feature film and six-hour miniseries, both set in WWII China. The film will be an adaptation of The Cursed Piano, a novel by Chinese author Bei La. It is a love story set against the backdrop of Japanese-occupied China at a time when Shanghai offered refuge to Europe’s persecuted Jews. The miniseries will be based on Daniella Kuhn’s story Tears of the Sparrow, and that will focus more closely on the Jewish experience in Shanghai. The film and mini will be made in concert and will share story elements and characters. Medavoy and Shanghai Film Group president Ren Zhonglun announced the project at the Shanghai International Film Festival.
Screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (Elegy) is also involved in the project. He and Medavoy worked together on Time After Time. Medavoy was born in Shanghai and lived the first six years of his life there. He produced the Mikael Hafstrom-directed Shanghai with John Cusack, Gong Li and Chow Yun-Fat. That long-gestating $50 million film grossed near $10 million foreign, but The Weinstein Company hasn’t yet released it in the US.
EXCLUSIVE: Lionsgate has set Nanny McPhee helmer Kirk Jones to direct a romantic comedy adaptation of Heidi Murkoff’s how-to manual What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Heather Hach wrote the first draft and Whip It! scribe Shauna Cross did a rewrite. Phoenix Pictures’ Mike Medavoy, Arnie Messer and David Thwaites are producing, and Doug McKay is co-producer. Murkoff and husband Erik Murkoff are exec producers with Alan Nevins. The book has sold north of 16 million copies, and is being turned into a pic in the vein of Love Actually, where five couples experience the surprises that happen when a stork visit is imminent. CAA-repped Jones made his breakthrough with Waking Ned Devine.
EXCLUSIVE: Phoenix Pictures’ Mike Medavoy, David Thwaites, and Brad Fischer are in Toronto to fan the Oscar buzz for the ultra-serious film Black Swan. But they’ve set as the next Phoenix project a comedy that will be directed by former Monty Python troupe member Terry Jones. They’ll produce Absolutely Anything, from an original script Jones wrote with Gavin Scott. While circumspect about logline, they tell me it involves “aliens, a goofy Brit, a talking dog and buckets of silliness.”
The Wildest Dream director Anthony Geffen has cemented his relationship with that doc’s executive producer, Mike Medavoy. They are getting their Geffen Medavoy Pictures banner off the ground with a branded slate of high-end documentaries–most shot 3D–to bring to life ancient empires, dinosaurs and other historical topics. Budgets on the 3D films will fall between $11 million and $15 million.
It’s a non-exclusive relationship and Medavoy continues with Phoenix Pictures. Their first 3D documentary together will focus on Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who spearheaded an expedition to the South Pole that left his crew stranded in sub-zero tundra after ice crushed their ship in 1915. Using shrewd management and harrowing treks through mountains, glaciers and brutal waters over 18 months, Shackleton kept all 27 members of his crew alive until they could be rescued. Medavoy and Geffen will produce together, hire a director and start production at year’s end.
Medavoy said other docu features they’ll make will focus on ancient Egypt, the Holy Land, and Africa. “The idea is to tell true stories with a large scope,” Medavoy told me. “We’re betting that people will want to see big-scale 3D renderings of places they’ll never go but want to experience. I look at this as similar to what happened to the animation segment when Disney was making hits and suddenly Pixar took it to a different level.”
Shackleton’s tale has been told …