The Frank Capra classic “Meet John Doe” has been bought for remake by Paul Mason, a longtime Viacom and Showtime executive who will produce through his Barstu Prods. banner.
The redo rush has created opportunities for producers who have the connections and the patience to sleuth rights to old movies and clean them up. This is Mason’s second foray: He optioned “Amityville Horror” sequel rights from the original pic’s subject, George Lutz, and Dimension used those rights to engage in a race with remake rights holder MGM. Ultimately, the two studios decided to pair on a single film, for which Mason will get an exec producer credit.
Mason, who had a long track record of producing TV shows before landing at Viacom, wanted to find a title in which he could be more involved in the creative process. He said he always liked the Capra film, in which Gary Cooper played a drifter who is groomed as a political candidate and pawn of a powerful group, who try to ruin him when he wises up. One of the manipulators, a newspaper reporter played by Barbara Stanwyck, falls in love with him and helps him navigate the mess. Mason liked it even more when he realized remake rights to Capra’s gem weren’t owned by a major studio.
Mason discovered that Capra owned many of his films, and sold this one before he died. The title changed hands several times before ending up with Samuel Krelberg of Goodwill Systems. Mason joined up with Elvin Feltner, who owns one of the largest film libraries in the world, and attorney Mike Plotkin, to make the deal. Feltner put up the money, and he and Plotkin will be exec producers. Mason is looking for a writer and a studio deal.
“Capra liked to own most of his films, but he took a considerable amount of money for this one, and he and others would have had to be super visionaries to see what would happen to rights values 30 years down the line,” Mason said. “This film is particularly valuable because the issues he explored are just as relevant and interesting today. Instead of the newspaper which made John Doe in the original film, you probably would make the Stanwyck character the host of a popular TV show. Look at the way they create stars with ‘American Idol.'”