Project based on an ex-marine's true story

Tony Scott has committed to direct as his next film “Man on Fire,” a Brian Helgeland-scripted adaptation of the A.J. Quinnell novel that has been Scott’s unrequited love for nearly two decades. Regency Enterprises and Fox 2000 will begin production early next year in Italy.

Scott said he’ll do this film and then follow with either the William Nicholson-scripted “American Caesar” at Universal or the Intermedia-based “Pancho Villa,” which is being written by Steve Zaillian. “These are going to occupy the next five years of my life and I love all three of them.”

Based on a true story, “Man on Fire” concerns an embittered former marine who moves to Italy and becomes a bodyguard for an Italian family. After the couple’s 10-year old daughter is kidnapped and killed, he devotes himself to avenging her death.

The film is being produced by Arnon Milchan, Lucas Foster and Scott. Regency production prexy Sanford Panitch and senior VP Peter Cramer will shepherd the pic along with Fox 2000 topper Elizabeth Gabler.

“I expected to make this film 18 years ago with Arnon Milchan, right after my first movie, ‘The Hunger,'” Scott said. “It stumbled along because I had only directed an esoteric vampire movie and hadn’t proven my worth and I had a bird in the hand with ‘Top Gun.’ “

Milchan ultimately did a version of “Man on Fire” — a 1987 pic helmed by Elie Chouraqui and starring Scott Glenn — but it wasn’t memorable enough to create an impediment to a new version. Producer Foster helped rekindle the project when he approached Milchan, and things came together very quickly when CAA put Scott together with Helgeland, who mined the revenge theme with “Payback.” Helgeland turned in a draft just 26 days later, and Scott committed immediately.

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