First project explores debate teams

Mandate Pictures has signed Zach Helm (“Stranger Than Fiction”) and his Gang of Two producing partner Jim Garavente to a first-look deal.

Gang of Two will look to produce films written by Helm, as well as shepherd projects by other writers and directors. Helm also wrote and directed the upcoming “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” for Mandate with Garavente producing.

First project under the deal is a comedy focusing on the high-pressure world of high school speech and debate teams based on Helm’s own embarrassing high school experiences.

Mandate will fully finance the untitled comedy with development execs turned writers David Posamentier and Geoff Moore writing the script. The writers are also working on pilots for DreamWorks TV, Touchstone TV and ABC.

“I’ve admired Zach’s original voice ever since I first read ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ and now even more having seen what he’s created with ‘Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,’ ” said Nathan Kahane, president of Mandate’s Motion Picture group.

Helm’s career began in Chicago theater, and he worked with Garavente when the latter served as his literary agent.

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