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Muhammad Ali pacts with Roundhill for biopic

Producer Paul Ardaji and his New York-based Roundhill Pictures have optioned the exclusive motion picture rights from Muhammad Ali to his life story. The deal includes all related ancillary rights, including merchandising, licensing and publishing.

The film, which is budgeted at $ 30 million, will be produced in association with Lee Caplin and his company, Picture Entertainment.

Caplin originally optioned the rights to Ali’s life in 1989 and announced in 1990 that he was mounting a production that would begin filming in 1991.

According to Caplin, Oliver Stone was set to write and direct the film, but Stone eventually walked away from the project, citing “creative differences.”

With Stone’s departure, Ardaji, a former advertising exec and a friend of Ali’s, stepped in and negotiated his own rights deal.

The new deal was negotiated by attorneys Don Steele and Ron DiNicola of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp, Ali’s lawyers.

This will not be the first time Ali’s story has been told on film. In 1977, Ali starred in the autobiopic “The Greatest.”

Asked why, in light of the earlier movie, he wants to produce another film on Ali, Ardaji said, “The scope and depth of the story is perfect for films. It just doesn’t get any better than this.”

Ardaji also cited the flurry of interest in “Malcolm X” as another reason. “Muhammad Ali is an important role model to a lot of people and it’s time that somebody told his story in the right way.”

Ali said in a statement, “After a long, personal and professional relationship with Paul, and given Paul’s energy and commitment to this project, I know I can trust him with the story of my life.”

While Ardaji says no creative talent has been signed, a source close to the project says William Mastrosimone, who scripted CBS’ recent “Sinatra” mini, will script.

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