Killer stalks a literary lion

'Every,' 'Capote' projects explore author's life

NEW YORK — Killer Films and writer-director Doug McGrath have begun preparations for “Every Word Is True,” one of two indie projects exploring the complex relationship between Truman Capote and the Kansas killers whose story was told in the author’s groundbreaking “In Cold Blood.”

Based on George Plimpton’s bio “Truman Capote,” McGrath’s film will be produced by Killer Films’ Christine Vachon and Bradford Simpson, with John Wells as exec producer. Development of the project was supervised by Killer director of development Jocelyn Hayes.

ICM-repped McGrath’s previous feature credits include “Emma” and “Nicholas Nickleby.”

“The interesting thing about this is it was right when Truman was at his peak,” Simpson said. “He was at the height of the literary world and was starting to become a plaything for New York society. ‘In Cold Blood’ made him and also sort of destroyed him at the same time.”

Became a caricature

“After that is when he became the caricature of himself — the fat, drunk, cocaine-sniffing guy who almost compulsively self-sabotaged his life,” Vachon added. She said the film will be budgeted at $13 million-$15 million, similar to Killer’s “Far From Heaven.”

Pic is one of two dueling projects on the literary lion that have gone out to financiers in the past week. Both films focus on the intense bond Capote formed while researching the book with Dick Hickock and, in particular, Perry Smith, two drifters convicted of the 1959 murders of a family of four.

Second project is “Capote,” which will mark the feature debut of documaker and commercials director Bennett Miller (“The Cruise”). Philip Seymour Hoffman is attached to play the author, with Caroline Baron (“Monsoon Wedding”) producing. Adapted by Dan Futterman from the Gerald Clarke biography, project was packaged by the actor-turned-screenwriter’s rep, Mike Lubin, at the Gersh Agency.

“We’re set to go as soon as we close financing,” Baron said. “We have all the key creative elements in place: an exciting new director, a brilliant actor and a great script based on a fascinating subject that’s set in a really interesting time in this country’s literary history.”

Journalistic journey

Both films will chronicle how Capote traveled with fellow author Harper Lee to Kansas to research a magazine article on the impact of murder on an ordinary town. When the killers were caught, Capote saw a book idea. He became increasingly unable to keep his emotional distance as he spent the next several years in close contact with Hickock and Smith through their trial to their time on death row and execution.

“The interesting thing about this period is that people like Truman Capote were in some ways the tabloid superstars of their day,” Simpson said. “They were known and their actions followed in a way that novelists just aren’t now.

“This is about the complications that arise when a writer forms an intense bond with his subject. It was that bond that allowed him to write that incredibly moving story, but also this was the last thing that Truman ever completed.”

Killer anticipates securing financing on “Every Word” in the next two weeks, with shooting expected to start in late fall-early winter in New York and the Midwest. Given the indie stable’s first-look deal with Warner Bros. — set up last year by Wells, whose company covers Killer’s overhead — the project could end up on the slate of the nascent Warner Classics division.

While no official announcements have been made, that specialty arm is believed to be positioning Killer’s Colin Farrell starrer “A Home at the End of the World” as its maiden release.

Capote also figures in a third feature project, based on Barry Werth’s nonfiction book “The Scarlet Professor,” about Newton Arvin, an American lit professor at Smith College in the 1940s and ’50s who was Capote’s mentor and lover. Arvin’s life assumed echoes of his favorite novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” when he was outed and fired after the U.S. Postal Service intercepted his delivery of beefcake erotica.

That pic is being set up by Gotham-based producer Dan Cogan through his DMC Films banner, with Chris Terrio adapting the screenplay and possibly in line to direct.

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