NEW YORK – Producers Scott Rudin and David Brown teamed up to acquire screen rights to “Angela’s Ashes,” Frank McCourt’s bestselling memoirs about growing up dirt poor in Ireland. Though both producers have deals at Paramount, they acquired the book with their own money and will set it up with a distributor after securing a writer and director to adapt it. Sources said McCourt will be paid six figures against high six figures.
The deal took months to crystallize, and proved slow-going mostly because of McCourt’s desire to have control over his own life story. He’ll co-write the script with an established screenwriter. McCourt was represented by Renaissance Agency’s Joel Gotler along with Molly Friedrich and Aaron Priest of the Aaron Priest Agency.
“This was one of the best pieces of material I’ve read in years, and after David and I discovered we were pursuing it separately, we decided why not just join forces,” Rudin said. “We’ve already been inundated with interest from filmmakers who knew we were trying to do this.” Said Brown: “When I read the book, my heart simply soared with pleasure at its poignancy.”
The sale is the latest chapter in the unlikely success story behind “Angela’s Ashes,” one that began when a mutual friend of McCourt and Friedrich dropped his manuscript on the literary agent’s kitchen counter. The book is the first written by McCourt, a 66-year-old retired schoolteacher. It has been on or near the top of the New York Times bestseller lists for 17 weeks, drawing wide critical acclaim.
“I’ve disproved the dictum by F. Scott Fitzgerald that there are no great second acts in American life,’ ” McCourt said. “Maybe there’ll be even a third act, and they’ll ask me to act in the thing. They wanted me to be involved in the writing of the script, because I’m such a special creature and so I could be sure they wouldn’t muck it up.”
“Angela’s Ashes” is the life story of McCourt, born in Brooklyn in the Depression to Irish immigrants who lived in such abject poverty that McCourt’s grandmother paid to bring the family back to Limerick, Ireland. There, things grew even more dire. With a house full of hungry children, McCourt’s father drank most of whatever money he brought in.It doesn’t seem like an obvious studio movie. Indeed, despite the good standing of both Rudin and Brown at Paramount, the studio passed. Both producers feel they’ll have no trouble setting the film up elsewhere and feel is measures up to recent Irish film fare.
“This can be in the spirit of Roddy Doyle films like ‘The Commitments’ or ‘The Snapper,’ and it has a lot in common with ‘My Left Foot,’ ” said Rudin. “Sometimes the less obvious films turn out much better than the bigger films.”
Brown also didn’t view the lack of a studio as a disadvantage: “This will be an extraordinary challenge to the creativity of a filmmaker, and we don’t want studio notes. I can tell you that Scott and I aren’t known to be impractical men. We don’t expect to win the BankAmerica award, but I think we have a chance to win every other award.”