Maverick Films is producing a film based on the infamous 1971 Stanford prison experiment, with Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”) producing and supervising a script by Tim Talbott. McQuarrie has an eye to direct.
Producing for Maverick will be Maverick partner Guy Oseary, president Mark Morgan and senior VP Brent Emery. Barron Kidd will co-produce.
The 1971 experiment was conducted by Stanford professor and former president of the American Psychological Assn. Philip Zimbardo. In the study on the psychology of prison life, a group of undergrads assumed the roles of prisoners and guards. Within 24 hours the guards resorted to psychological torture and humiliation — including sexual degradation — of the inmates, who in turn staged an uprising, instigating more terror.
Originally planned as a two-week study, the experiment was abruptly discontinued after six days when it became clear that things were out of control. Four students had emotional breakdowns and had to be released; one developed a psychosomatic body rash.
Pic will be based on original research and footage provided by Zimbardo, who will consult on the project.
“All of what will be shown will be factual, but creatively the question is, who’s going to tell the story?” Zimbardo said.
Zimbardo’s Web site Prisonexperiment.org, which contains slides and documentation from the experiment, had been receiving about 800,000 unique page views per month. Since the scandal over abuses in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, it’s up to a million hits a day. ‘Transformation of humanity’
“What gives it drama and meaning is that it’s the transformation of humanity. Here you had good kids who were normal, healthy, no previous history of mental illness.Yet in a matter of days they transformed entirely.”
Over the years there have been attempts to make a film based on the experiment, but none materialized. About seven years ago HBO commissioned a dramatized doc. Last year NBC’s “Dateline” did a piece that never aired. Leonardo DiCaprio was attached to a film project at one point.
The 2001 movie “Das Experiment” is inspired by what happened at Stanford, but it is more violent and ultimately fictional.
Zimbardo says he hopes the Maverick film will be “more true and equally dramatic without going over the top.”