Dark ‘Angel’ takes wing

When a real life serial killer’s crimes hits newspapers the way Efren Saldivar’s did after he confessed to poisoning patients at the Glendale Adventist Medical Center, TV producers usually pounce. In this case, though, Spyglass partners Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber are ready to go on a feature about the case.

Saldivar has been a front page fixture in Los Angeles since confessing to misusing his post as a hospital’s respiratory therapist to inject the sickest patients with lethal paralyzing drugs.

Spyglass has developed a script by Emmy-winning “Sopranos” writer James Manos, and is mounting a feature about how the case was cracked, from the vantage point of lead investigator, Sgt. John McKillop. Saldivar dubbed himself the “Angel of Death,” and even though he was sentenced just two weeks ago to life without parole for six of those murders, Birnbaum said that the film “Angel of Death” will be in production as early as late summer.

“On the one hand, you had this viciousness, coldness and callousness of a man who killed possibly over 100 people because he thought his workload was too much,” said Birnbaum. “On the other hand, you have the story of a cop who was once one of the best cops, but who lost his path and was no longer interested in being that good. What’s interesting is how, the cop rediscovered his path and worked his way back to being a good cop. It’s an arc not dissimilar to the Paul Newman character in ‘The Verdict.'”

WHITE HOUSE VIEWING: Getting a White House screening before President George W. Bush is a neat way to give a movie an extra dose of media exposure. Disney’s “The Rookie” got just such a boost last week. The White House invite came thanks to an idea by Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray, who produced the film with Mark Johnson. “We had two movies going in Austin, and on one of them, ‘The New Guy,’ we had a girl in a small part in the movie who turned out to be Jenna Bush’s roommate at the University of Texas,” said Ciardi. “When we screened ‘The Rookie’ in Austin, we had a thought that if we invited the roommate of the president’s daughter, that might be a good way to get the information out. She saw it and was blown away. She then got in the phone with Jenna, who in turn called the president and told him her friends were trying to get a screening of a movie they thought he’d love, particularly since it deals with baseball in Texas. He tells her, ‘I haven’t heard anything about it, but tell them W’s on it.’ Two days later, we got a call from the White House and the screening was on.” Gray said that version was confirmed by the president himself. Said Gray: “People are trying to take credit for it, but it really came from out of left field.” Which seems appropriate for a movie about baseball.

STARZ LOVE STORY: While producer Hawk Koch Jr. and writer/director Michele Ohayon were trying to mount a dramatized feature of her Oscar-nominated documentary “Colors Straight Up,” the pair bonded on a much different project that has been greenlit by Starz Pictures. “Steal a Pencil” is the story of Jaap and Ina Polak, lovers whose courtship took place while they were separated in a concentration camp. Their encounters consisted of rare sightings and mostly through letters that were written on scraps of paper and smuggled back and forth by others in two different camps. Ohayon, who is friends with the couple’s daughter, always wanted to tell a Holocaust story and through her friend found a unique one. “He was in an arranged marriage that wasn’t working, and he met the woman he fell in love with at a cocktail party,” said Ohayon. “They had three miracles, being reunited in a camp in Amsterdam and again in Bergen-Belsen in Germany. He and his wife knew they would not stay together but had an agreement they’d remain married because they thought it would give them a greater chance to stay alive.” Jack and Ina reunited in Amsterdam after he was liberated by the Russians and she by the Americans. He divorced his wife, and they lived happily ever after in America. “It is all about the power of love, and the power of an attitude that I’m not going to die,” Koch said. Jack and Ina, as well as his first wife Magda, are still alive, and he is the longtime head of the Anne Frank Foundation. Since he travelled to New York recently to tell his story to schoolchildren, Koch and Ohayon filmed it and she will frame a dramatized version of their early years to create a movie shot in the style of “Reds.”

WHILE THEY SHOOT THAT FILM, Koch and Ohayon have also gotten a second wind on “Colors Straight Up” at MGM. The docu was about South Central kids who gave up gangbanging to join a performing arts program, and a dramatized pic had been put in turnaround by MGM. It was revived after Morgan Freeman saw the docu and pledged to help. He’s coming aboard with Revelations partner Lori McCreary to produce with Koch, and will likely appear in the film as well, Ohayon said. A new script draft is now being worked up by Robert Dolman, who just wrapped “The Banger Sisters” for Fox Searchlight.

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