Enron pic fuels Artisan ledge

Doubleday book expected to be published in fall

Maybe they’ll call it “The Scare the Rich Project.”

Artisan Entertainment has acquired the rights to Enron whistleblower Sherron Watkins’ life story as well as the rights to “Power Failure,” her upcoming book about the energy trader’s meltdown as seen from her front-row seat at the firm. Deal is for mid-six figures, according to sources.

Book is being written by Watkins’ collaborator Mimi Swartz, the longtime Texas Monthly correspondent. The told-from-the-inside book will be published by Doubleday, and is expected out in the late fall. The deal for Watkins and Swartz follows closely on the heels of Artisan’s pact with Lowell Bergman to consult on the project last month. Bergman, the Emmy-winning producer portrayed by Al Pacino in “The Insider,” recently produced “Blackout,” the PBS/Frontline docu on Enron’s connection to California’s power crisis.

Why make a movie about arcana like energy trading and accounting irregularities?

“I have been fortunate enough to be part of stories that make this one seem like ‘Pinocchio,’ ” said Bob Cooper, Artisan Pictures CEO and chairman of its television division.

Indeed, as a former president of HBO Pictures, Cooper made successes of both “Barbarians at the Gate” and “And the Band Played On,” both based on complicated tales: the leveraged management buyout of RJR Nabisco and AIDS historian Randy Shilts’ weighty and detailed tome of the same name, respectively.

“The audience is so jaded, the challenge is how to challenge them,” Cooper said, adding, “This has big themes … of humor and tragedy. And it’s certainly far more in the public consciousness than was Nabisco.”

Discussions also are taking place at cabler FX about developing a documentary companion piece to the dramatic original movie, though Cooper said the accompanying docu likely would not involve Artisan.

Cooper will exec produce the pic, with Artisan Television’s Barbara Bloom producing. FX entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly will oversee its development for the cabler. It’s unclear if it will be a four-hour mini or simply a two-hour original pic.

Watkins was repped in the deal by International Creative Management in Los Angeles; Swartz by Collins/McCormick Literary Agency in Gotham.

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