Corrupt King tale takes U turn with Gerolmo and ‘Traffic’ duo

Chris Gerolmo has signed with Universal to write and direct “The King Incorporated,” a film based on the story of Leopold II, the rich Belgian king whose rubber-producing factory was quietly responsible for the deaths of millions of people. The film will be produced by the “Traffic” team of Laura Bickford and Steven Soderbergh, and the deal was worth high-six figures against seven if the film gets made.

Gerolmo, best known for “Mississippi Burning,” will use the book by Neal Ascherson to create a drama about the group of young employees who lose everything when they try to expose the enslavement, torture and dismemberment of locals in the Congo who were forced to harvest rubber. The king, who boasted a carefully crafted philanthropic image, paid his brutal employees based on the number of hands they cut off from workers who resisted them, and the king was equally ruthless in ruining the people who try to uncover his secret and cause his downfall. The project was bought by U chairman Stacey Snider and production co-prexy Mary Parent.

Bickford will produce the film, and Soderbergh will exec produce, in a co-production between Laura Bickford Prods. and Section Eight, the company Soderbergh runs with George Clooney. Gerolmo made his directing debut on the Bickford-produced HBO film “Citizen X.” He was set to follow by directing the Brad Pitt-starrer “Laws of Madness,” a project about a man who overcame schizophrenia to pass law school, and then killed his girlfriend. Gerolmo moved on and will next direct for U “Over the Edge,” another fact-based story he scripted about American climbers taken hostage.

Bickford and Soderbergh are also working with the Oscar-winning star of “Traffic,” Benicio Del Toro, on a biopic of revolutionary Che Guevara. Del Toro will star and Soderbergh will direct late next year.

Soderbergh’s serving an advisory role on an increasing number of films, including “Daytrippers,” the debut film of Greg Mottola, who’s about to direct Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore in the Miramax comedy “The Duplex “; the Anthony and Joe Russo-directed “Welcome to Collinwood”; the Chris Nolan-directed “Insomnia”; and “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” which marks the directing debut of Clooney. Gerolmo was repped by ICM, Bickford and Soderbergh by Pat Dollard.

HOLLYWOOD HEAVIES IN GROUND ZERO GROUNDSWELL: Vin Diesel has enlisted Lawrence Bender, “15 Minutes” director John Herzfeld and Sylvester Stallone to co-found the Entertainment Community Ground Zero Relief Fund, which is moving quickly to raise money to help families of victims and survivors of the World Trade Center attacks. They’ve gotten the support of Ed Burns, Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kelsey Grammer, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Tobey Maguire, Ted Field, Jon Feltheimer and such entities as AMG, Brillstein-Grey, CAA, Endeavor, the Firm, Handprint Entertainment, ICM, Industry Entertainment, UTA and William Morris. A benefit is quickly being organized and the co-founders are asking peers to open their wallets, promising not only that 100% of the monies will go to relief services, but that it will be matched by the Entertainment Industry Foundation. They ask those interested in donating to call Diesel’s reps at (310) 407-3441.

SIGNINGS: With numerous agencies pursuing, ICM has signed Adam Garcia, who is following a breakout performance in “Coyote Ugly” with a turn opposite Drew Barrymore in the Penny Marshall-directed “Riding in Cars with Boys.” Garcia, who recently wrapped the Mick Jackson-directed Fox film “The First 20 Million is Always the Hardest,” now has reps spanning the globe, with ICM agenting him with London-based CAM’s Peter Brooks. He’s managed in Hollywood by Brillstein-Grey’s Peter Safran, working with Robyn Gardiner in Australia … Roger Towne, who wrote the script for “The Natural” and was the original writer of the Al Pacino-Colin Farrell-starrer “The Farm,” has signed with Infinity Management Intl. Towne is working with George Litto in shopping a treatment for the bigscreen transfer of the series “Hawaii 5-0.”

DISHINGS: The biz has begun to reawaken. While it’s hard to imagine comedies being pitched anytime soon, dramas are on the table. Coleman Hough, who wrote Soderbergh’s next directing effort, “How to Survive a Hotel Room Fire,” next week will, with her Sterling Lord agent Jody Hotchkiss, test the marketplace with two projects. One’s “Sunnyvale: The Rise and Fall of a Silicon Valley Family,” based on the Jeff Goodell book about the tearing apart and mending of his family after the author got caught up in the computer boom in the late 80s. Hough, a former actress and playwright, will also pitch “There is Always Room at a Round Table,” the story of a group of upper middle class women looking for love, contrasted by a group of homeless women looking for a place to live … “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” scribe Harris Goldberg is ready to make his directing debut on “Where’s Angelo?,” an Evolving Pictures-produced short scripted by Scott Dorel and Alex Schrader about two hit men with two strikes against them. Goldberg, who also co-scripted with Dana Carvey the upcoming Revolution comedy “Master of Disguise,” has gotten Beverly D’Angelo, Robert Forster, Michael Madsen, Wolfgang Bodison, Scott Dorel and Frank Pesci to star, with filming done this week in L.A. Jack Gilardi Jr. is producing, with Jean Pierre Pereat and Gary Robinson exec producing.

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