Helmer set to tell 18th century story

Disney is near a double deal with writer-director Randall Wallace for his historical epic “Love and Honor.” Accord will guarantee a greenlight for a film to begin filming in the fall for a Christmas 2004 release while, Disney-owned Hyperion will publish Wallace’s novel of the story around Christmas this year.

Wallace has used history to fuel his scripts “Braveheart,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Man in the Iron Mask” and “We Were Soldiers”; he also directed the latter two. Once again, true events inspire this project, an 18th century story framed around the Revolutionary War that will be set mostly in Russia.

“A young American is sent by Ben Franklin to Russia to seek out Catherine the Great and prevent her from joining the British to put down the American Revolution,” Wallace said. “He is sent secretly in the company of a disgraced Russian count who is known as a fierce warrior. They are pivotal in putting down the Cossack revolt, becoming heroes in the Russian court.”

Once inside the court, Franklin’s messenger discovers he must be as much a gladiator in the bedroom as he was on the battlefield in order to woo Catherine’s favor on behalf of his country. In the process, he falls in love with her.

Wallace originated the tale as part of a sprawling novel he wrote between scripts over the past six years. He sparked to working again with the “Pearl Harbor” team of Disney’s Dick Cook and Nina Jacobson, along with Hyperion’s Jennifer Lang, partly because the imprint guided his “Pearl Harbor” novel to bestseller status. When Wallace shopped “We Were Soldiers,” he was able to get rich deals from Paramount and Icon because he personally had optioned the book on which it was based. Once again, he brought a complete package, with a finished novel and greenlightable script.

So Disney has now brought another epic-sized film to its slate. To do that, the Mouse House was willing to satisfy Wallace’s desire that his novel not be trivialized as a novelization of a film. When his WMA reps took this package to market, Wallace was insistent that the novel precede the film by a full year.

“A peculiarity of our business is that if you are known as a screenwriter, some people will view your book as a novelization,” Wallace said. “I hate the word; it’s not what I do.”

Wallace, who began as a novelist and songwriter, will team with composer Nick Glennie-Smith to write music for the film, as they did on “We Were Soldiers.” Wallace’s the Wheelhouse shingle will produce the film and develop videogames based on “Love and Honor.”

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