Indianapolis saga snagged; ABA hoopla

UNIVERSAL AND PRODUCER Chris Moore (“Good Will Hunting”) have emerged victorious in a spirited chase for rights to the life of Hunter Scott, a Florida youth who has D.C. lawmakers ready to overturn a World War II court-martial of Navy captain Charles McVeigh. McVeigh skippered the infamous USS Indianapolis, the ship which delivered the A-bomb to be dropped on Japan.

The ship was sunk on its secret return trip, and crew members spent a horrific five days in the water. Most ended up either drowning or being eaten by sharks. McVeigh was court-martialed and ultimately committed suicide because of the shame he felt.

Scott began asking questions after seeing the famous Robert Shaw scene in “Jaws” that recounted the shark nightmare. He wrote to survivors and uncovered compelling evidence that McVeigh was blameless and that he’d been scapegoated by the Navy. A bill prompted by the youth’s campaign to posthumously overturn the court-martial and restore McVeigh’s rank is expected to be signed into law.

U will now engage in competition with MGM and Trilogy, which have their own Indianapolis project. That one’s based in part on the Dan Kurzman book “Fatal Voyage,” for which John Sayles already has written a script. When that project first surfaced in Dish (Daily Variety, Aug. 13), its producers were hoping to incorporate the role of the 13-year-old Scott in getting McVeigh a reconsideration. But Scott and his parents entrusted the tale to Moore, an amiable 31-year-old producer best known for co-producing “Good Will Hunting,” shepherding that project from the moment Harvard pals Matt Damon and Ben Affleck handed him their script.

Moore, whose company is Fusion Studios, said he’d heard Scott’s story on National Public Radio and hooked Universal execs Stacey Snider and Allison Brecker on chasing it. But it was not easy, and as rivals circled like sharks, Moore thought it would go to a bigger producer name. “The Scotts decided not to do anything until the bill had been introduced in D.C. in August because they didn’t want to taint Hunter’s efforts,” said Moore. “I just stayed in touch, would answer questions they had, knowing I couldn’t be the only genius who could see this was a great idea.” He lined up against six other bidders, though the final choice came down to Universal and Disney. Moore and U won. Nobody’s commenting on price, though it presumably will cover tuition at a good college.

“We have Hunter’s life and his research, which includes a lot of personal correspondence with survivors,” said Moore. “What we really have is a way in and a way out of an awful naval disaster, this story of a kid who questioned what he saw as wrong, who, when he got letters from the Navy telling him he was wrong, said ‘I don’t agree with you’ and kept going. That’s as uplifting and American as it gets, and it’s a great backdrop. I think to do just the story of the Indianapolis loses something, but maybe this will be one of those things that becomes a race.”

HOOPLA OVER ABA: If the American Basketball Assn. was as popular when it existed as it is in Hollywood these days, the league with the red, white and blue ball might not be defunct. Already in production is “New Jersey Turnpikes,” a comedy about a fictitious ABA team. Now, director William Bindley and producers Gary Lucchesi and Carl Amari have acquired rights to “Loose Balls,” the Terry Pluto book about the league published by Simon & Schuster.

Bindley, whose credits include “Judicial Consent” for Rysher, is currently developing “A Sporting Chance” at Fox — the true story of a Texas high school prison football team — to direct for producer Danny Jacobson. Bindley said just as there was room for two hoop leagues, there’s room for multiple movies. “People will want to know the real story, which is absolutely hilarious,” said Bindley, whose brother Scott will write the screenplay for Addison Street Films.

The film will revolve around Mike Storen, who as ABA commissioner turned the league into a barn-storming competitor for the stuffy NBA. “The NBA disparaged the ABA style of play, called it a circus act, then went after it with all their guns when stars like Julius Erving turned it into a real threat,” said Bindley. “They bugged offices and once an ABA team leaked a list of draft choices which included a guy who played on a college chess team. It was fun, but cutthroat.”

Another central figure will be Roger Brown, a college star banned by the NBA on the murky charge of associating with undesirables. Storen pulled him from a GM plant to become one of the league’s marquee players. “The charges were bogus, and when the ABA folded, the NBA told him they rescinded the ban and Roger said, ‘No thanks, I played my basketball and it was for the ABA.’ Mike Storen was there and it was quite a moment.” They’ll look to align it with a studio shortly.

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