Miramax escapes with ‘War Journal’

Memoir movie in the midst of a WWII revival

Now basking in the critical adoration of its Italian WWII pic “Life Is Beautiful,” Miramax Films is revisiting the Big One, having struck a deal for the feature rights to Major Damon “Rocky” Gause’s memoir “War Journal.”

Chris Moore and Craig Anderson will produce the true-life WWII escape epic; Matt Damon and Ben Affleck — who co-wrote and starred in Miramax’s “Good Will Hunting,” which Moore co-produced — will take executive producing duties.

In his memoir, Major Gause (then 1st Lt. Gause) wrote about his escape from Japanese confinement on the Philippines near the beginning of the Bataan Death March in 1941, after which he sailed with another soldier for 53 days across 3,200 miles of the Japanese-held Pacific en route to the northern coast of Australia in a leaky, 25-foot boat with a palm tree for a mast and rice bags for sails — amid enemy fire, storm-tossed seas and an often contentious relationship with his boatmate.

Manuscript lost for 50 years

One year after his escape (thought to be the longest in American military history), Gause, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, rejoined the military for a second tour of duty and was killed during a routine air maneuver over London. Gause left a wife and infant son, Damon L. Gause, who is writing the introduction to the memoir.

Gause’s personal account of his trek lay undiscovered in his abandoned footlocker for more than 50 years, until his family found the journal and sent it to Gotham literary agents.

Hyperion acquired the publishing rights and plans to publish “War Journal” in November, to coincide with Veterans Day.

The William Morris Agency’s Bill Contardi brokered the deal on behalf of Gotham lit agent Mary Tahan. Jon Gordon, senior VP of production, will oversee the project for Miramax.

While it has the once-again popular war at its core, along with a hero who braves countless obstacles for the sake of God, mother and the homeland, “War Journal” will compete with a growing list of WWII-era films in development at the studios. Similar in theme is Universal/Brillstein-Grey’s project based on the biography of Lou Zamperini, a WWII Air Force pilot who crashed in the Pacific and drifted for 47 days before landing on a Japanese-controlled island, where he was taken prisoner. Nicolas Cage is a producer on the project, which is being developed for him to star.

A year ago, Paramount paid $2 million for the film rights to James Webb’s novel “The Emperor’s General” for producer Scott Rudin. Narrated by a young member of Gen. MacArthur’s diplomatic team, “Emperor’s” takes place during the aftermath of the Bataan Death March and the subsequent devastation of Manila by fleeing Japanese troops.

Two other projects involving escaped American POWs are Warner Bros.’ “Five Past Midnight,” based on James Thayer’s novel and produced by George Clooney’s Maysville Prods.; and Par’s long-in-development Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, “With Wings as Eagles,” based on the personal experiences of James Cullen.

Steve Hutensky, senior VP of business and legal and VPs Stuart Ford and Michael Linows negotiated for Miramax.

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