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‘Rainmaker’ heavyweight summit of author, auteur

Francis Ford Coppola

Even after grossing $474 million in five movies with casts that included megastars Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock, John Grisham would only lend his name to a picture’s title after meeting with Hollywood’s godfather. All it took for Francis Ford Coppola to pursue the film was some free time at the airport.

In “John Grisham’s The Rainmaker,” an idealistic attorney pursues an insurance company for not paying a claim. Coppola picked up the book while waiting for a flight to France. Soon he found himself jotting notes in the margins of the book and trying to buy the rights to the novel.

“Actually, Francis had never read a John Grisham novel before, but he found ‘Rainmaker’ to be inspirational,” says Fred Fuchs, president of Coppola’s production company American Zoetrope and executive producer of the latest Grisham pic. “We found that the rights had already been taken by Steve Reuther, so we called him up to let them know that we were interested in working on the project.”

Soon, Coppola found himself writing the screenplay, collaborating with Grisham to cut the story to a two-hour movie. Grisham participated in the first cut of the film, the first time he had been allowed to do so. It’s this affinity with the filmmaker that helped pave the way for Grisham lending his name to a movie after publicly disagreeing with the direction of previous productions.

“Coppola was able to reinstate characters that would have normally been cut out of the book,” says Reuther, prexy and CEO of Douglas/Reuther Prods., which owns the rights to the novel. “Because of the richness of the characters, we went all-out, assembling a top-notch cast that became something of an actor’s ensemble.” Clearly Coppola’s attachment to “Rainmaker” marks a return to the mass appeal film after his last directorial effort, “Jack,” and two films he executive produced, “Buddy” and “My Family,” found limited audiences. Moreover, Coppola’s affinity for bringing widely read books to the bigscreen is well documented. Besides “The Godfather,” Coppola has directed adaptations of S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” and “Rumble Fish” and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” and executive produced Homer’s “The Odyssey” for NBC earlier this year.

“This is a subject that Coppola has never touched on before,” Reuther says. “But he’s always had a great degree of success turning books into movies.”

Fuchs and Reuther agree that Coppola was able to make the production his own by customarily placing a lot of attention into casting the film, adding such names as Claire Danes, Randy Travis, Danny De Vito and Andrew Shue for supporting roles.

“We decided to Hollywoodize the film through casting but we wanted to make sure that the story wasn’t given the typical Hollywood gloss either,” Fuchs says. “Our story is grittier and more realistic than some of the other John Grisham movies, which are more conceptual. I think that’s one reason why Grisham was so fond of the production.”

“Rainmaker” is now the sixth Grisham novel to hit the bigscreen, following “The Firm,” “The Pelican Brief,” “The Client,” “The Chamber” and last year’s “A Time to Kill.”

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