Playtone marches into ‘Sunlight’

Hanks' shingle acquires Vietnam book

Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman have made a preemptive buy of “They Marched into Sunlight,” David Maraniss’ book about two brutal days that defined the futility of the Vietnam War.

Published by Simon & Schuster, Maraniss’ tale focuses on two days in October 1967. On one side of the world, students on the U. of Wisconsin campus waged an antiwar demonstration against the Dow Chemical company for its dispersal of napalm.

As that peaceful protest turned into a full scale riot, a battalion of U.S. soldiers marched off into the jungle, only to fall into an ambush that resulted in a furious battle claiming the lives of 61 Americans.

Those cataclysmic events are interspersed with the beehive of activity in LBJ’s White House, as the president and his advisers realized the war had spiraled out of control.

The book intrigued the screen crowd because the divergent events can be staged in ways that have been done effectively with the film “Traffic” and the TV series “24.”

Maraniss is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and associate editor at the Washington Post who previously wrote “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,” and the Bill Clinton bio “First in His Class.”

In college at that time

The author was a freshman at Wisconsin when the riot occurred, and he never forgot the way it turned apathetic students into zealous war protesters.When he came across the battle in Vietnam that happened the same day, he knew he had a story to tell.

“There’s lots of great literature on the war itself and (the) antiwar (movement), but I hadn’t seen a book that tried to present the totality of the experience of Vietnam,” he said.

“I’d found events in two worlds that amounted to the same thing, and used the events at the White House to tie everything together. It was so harrowing that the president turned to his defense secretary Robert McNamara and asked, ‘How will we ever win this?’ ”

It is the second screen deal for Maraniss, who optioned his Lombardi book to Columbia Pictures, only to see the pic about the legendary Packers coach get benched. But when Hanks and Goetzman sparked to the new tale, the author got D.C.-based Rafe Sagalyn and CAA to make the latest deal.

Band of Hanks & Goetzman

After marshaling the WWII HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” Hanks and Goetzman have become very active producers of American history projects.

Playtone is prepping a massive miniseries on the American Revolution based on the David McCullough book “John Adams,” and Hanks and Goetzman just teamed with Universal to buy screen rights to the George Crile book “Charlie Wilson’s War,” about a disgraced Texas congressman teamed with a rogue CIA agent to arm Afghanistan resistance fighters. “Band of Brothers” scribe John Orloff is adapting that book.

Hanks and Goetzman financed the purchase of “Sunlight” themselves. They have a first-look deal at Universal and so will give the studio first crack. They expect to secure a scribe shortly.

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