Mel Gibson isn’t shying away from edgy subject matter with his latest project — an ABC movie set against the backdrop of the Holocaust.
Gibson’s Con Artist Prods. along with Jaffe/Braunstein Prods. and Sladek/Taaffe Prods. are developing “Flory,” a telepic based on the real-life love story of a Dutch Jew named Flory Van Beek and the non-Jewish boyfriend who sheltered her from the Nazis.
While the story is not meant to be a historical document of the Holocaust, Gibson’s involvement is sure to raise eyebrows.
A few critics of Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” claimed the pic contained anti-Semitic elements, a charge Gibson has denied. Gibson’s father, Hutton Gibson, has been quoted as questioning whether the Holocaust took place.
ABC longform topper Quinn Taylor knows critics will carp — and he’s got his reply ready.
“I would tell them to shut up and wait to see the movie, and then judge,” Taylor told Daily Variety. “I’m not about to rewrite history (with the movie). I’m going to explore an amazing love story that we can all learn from and, hopefully, be inspired by.
“People are going to say what they’re going to say,” he added.
A spokesman for Gibson said the actor was in Mexico working on Disney’s “Apocalypto” and couldn’t be reached for comment. Con Artist topper Nancy Cotton also declined comment via spokesman Alan Nierob.
Daniel Sladek, the producer who first brought the Van Beek story to Taylor’s attention, said he hopes media noise doesn’t distract from the true point of the pic.
“Everybody loves controversy,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s any reason to react to this. Let the project stand on its own two feet.
“Instead of shooting it down, I would hope that people in this community and in general would say, ‘Isn’t it great there’s an interest in furthering the historical (record) of the Holocaust?’,” he added.
Taylor — who oversaw ABC’s Emmy-winning miniseries “Anne Frank” — made it clear, however, that “Flory” is not a blow-by-blow examination of the Nazi regime and its atrocities.
“We’re not taking on the Holocaust,” he said.
Sladek, whose father is a survivor of the Holocaust, also expressed optimism that Con Artists’ involvement could expose “Flory” to a larger audience.
“A lot of people don’t know much about the Holocaust,” he said. “Maybe Mel Gibson and (Con Artists’) involvement will attract people who wouldn’t otherwise watch.”
“Flory” has been in negotiations for nearly a year, Taylor said, but in terms of actual development, the process has just started.
Cynthia Saunders (“Profiler”) has been hired to write an outline and script. Until Taylor sees more, he can’t yet say whether the film will be two hours or four hours.
(Sladek said the project is being designed as a miniseries, but that ABC will make the final call).
A formal greenlight is at least several months away, and the pic wouldn’t air until the 2006-07 season at the earliest.
It’s also not certain that Gibson will even put his name on the project as exec producer. Gibson has not exec produced several projects from his TV division, which until recently operated under the Icon banner.
As of now, Michael Jaffe, Howard Braunstein, Bruce Davey, Cotton, Sladek and Chris Taaffe are set to exec produce.
Taylor said he hasn’t spoken to Gibson since the thesp-producer worked with ABC on a “Three Stooges” biopic in the 1990s. Instead, Cotton has been the primary force pushing the project for the Con Artists camp, he said.
“I bought this project due primarily to Nancy Cotton’s tenacity,” Taylor said.
Cotton had been trying to develop a picture in the Holocaust arena for some time, Taylor said. Shortly after Taylor took a pass on one idea, he said he heard from Sladek, who had come across the story of Van Beek.
“I said, ‘Send over the story to me and call Nancy Cotton,’ ” Taylor said.
“Flory” is expected to focus on how the young Flory and her husband, Felix, met and how their relationship grew into a romance. She was 16 at the time, while he was several years older.
Felix was “aware things were changing in a way she didn’t understand,” Taylor said. The two would face an “unbelievably complex series of events,” he said, as Van Beek’s husband sought to transport her to safety.
“Despite all the ugliness in the world, they found this bond,” Taylor said.
Con Artists Prods. is working on a slate of four series projects (Daily Variety, Dec. 5).