Freed/Laufer Prods. confirmed Thursday that it has reached a development deal with Brig. Gen. Steve Ritchie for the pic “Sierra Hotel,” based on Ritchie’s story.Ritchie flew 339 missions during the Vietnam War during two separate tours of duty, becoming the only American pilot to gun down five MiG-21’s in 1972. He received the Air Force Cross, four Silver Stars, 10 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 25 Air Medals during his service. Producer Dick Freed acknowledged that “Sierra Hotel” is a ticklish project because it deals with the Vietnam War. He said the company will attempt to strike a balance between telling the story of “an authentic hero” operating against the backdrop of one of the “darkest, most confusing times in American history.” “This crosses over a lot of lines,” added producer Ira Laufer. “Steve’s a very patriotic American, but after only two days in Vietnam he knew that there was no way we could win this war … Despite that, he went to heroic lengths to ensure that other pilots and crew were not captured, humiliated and subjected to torture.” To push the project forward, Sherman Oaks-based Freed/Laufer Prods. has partnered with screenwriter Paul Finelli to write the screenplay based on Ritchie’s story. Finelli most recently co-wrote with Jack Capece the screenplay “Dreamland,” which has been optioned by Victor/Grais Prods. The title refers to a phrase that Vietnam War pilots used whenjets were gunned down, bombs hit their marks, or a major threat was on the horizon. It will be produced by Freed and Laufer, while Ritchie’s former wife Sherye Ritchie will co-produce. For producers Freed/Laufer, “Sierra Hotel” is a bid to go from television production to features. The company’s previous credentials include director Diane Keaton’s “Wildflower,” and the critically acclaimed “Sudie and Simpson.”
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