Animal magnetism at HBO

Johnson penning Grandin pic as Russell eyes helm

David O. Russell has joined Anthony Edwards’ and Dante Di Loreto’s Aviator Films in developing an original pic for HBO about the unusual life of animal scientist Temple Grandin, Ph.D.

Edwards and Di Loreto are exec producing the film with Emily Gerson Saines and Gil Bellows. Up-and-comer feature scribe W. Merritt Johnson is penning the screenplay, based on Grandin’s books “Emergence” and “Talking in Pictures.”

In addition to aiding in the development of the pic, Russell, who wrote and directed “Three Kings” and “Flirting With Disaster,” is eyeing directing duties.

Pic will focus on the young-adult years of Grandin, the autistic university professor known for coming up with humane ways to handle and slaughter livestock.

She has been the subject of writings by Oliver Sacks and a documentary by Errol Morris. She herself has written that as an autistic woman, she finds other people’s behavior alien and that she studies people as if she were “an anthropologist from Mars.”

Look at ‘unexplored world’

“This project is a window into an unexplored world, which affects millions of people,” Edwards said. “We are excited to be working with someone like David (O. Russell), whose unique visual style and storytelling skills will be such an asset in making this a successful film.

“We are also looking forward to working with HBO. They love to take risks and they don’t blink when you want to break new ground.”

Di Loreto told Daily Variety the pic will be “more about the individual than the illness.”

“Regardless of the autism, it is quite profound what she does in a male-dominated world of slaughterhouses,” he said. “This is the story of a woman who accomplishes extraordinary things because she believes she can … She is a woman with an extraordinary power of imagination. She can visualize anything.”

Project exemplifies Aviator

Edwards — who first became aware of Grandin through his work with autism research — and Di Loreto said this project exemplifies what they aim to do at Aviator Films.

“What Dante and I do best is finding ideas that genuinely move us and finding the right collaborators,” Edwards said.

“We want to bring interesting stories to talented filmmakers,” Di Loreto said.

“About things we care about,” Edwards chimed in.

Aviator Films’ slate includes the feature film “Die Mommie Die,” written by and starring Gotham author and drag performer Charles Busch, as well as a biopic about Greenpeace Intl. founder David McTaggart and a docu directed by Ken Kwapis about the one and only movie musical produced by the FBI. Aviator’s most recent credit is the Showtime original movie “My Louisiana Sky.”

Edwards, Di Loreto and Johnson are represented by UTA, while Russell is repped by Endeavor.

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