Documentaries can transfer to fictional realm

“The King of Kong” is a story of larger-than-life characters, told through a classic structure and set in a bizarre world too extreme to be believed.

It’s also a documentary — which means that its potential aud is limited, no matter how intriguing the subject matter.

So New Line, producer Beau Flynn and director Seth Gordon are hoping to have it both ways. The doc, which follows the story of championship Donkey Kong player Steve Wiebe and his rivalry with “Video Game Player of the Century” Billy Mitchell, is getting the fictional treatment as well. Gordon’s onboard to direct that version too, and the team cut a distribution deal for the new pic with New Line before the doc was even released theatrically.

Producer Ed Cunningham says an assistant to New Line’s Richard Brenner brought the doc to his boss. “He said, ‘Dude, I won’t work for you anymore if you don’t watch this movie,’” recalls Cunningham.

They’re not the only players in the doc- transfer game. Werner Herzog, whose 1997 doc “Little Dieter Needs to Fly,” recounted the perils of pilot Dieter Dengler after being shot down in Cambodia, reimagined Dengler’s story for this year’s Christian Bale starrer “Rescue Dawn.” And the Maysles brothers’ 1975 doc “Grey Gardens” is now getting the feature treatment after a critically successful conversion to, of all things, a Broadway musical.

All three films have a strong theatricality, largely derived from the rich personalities at their core: Wiebe, Dengler and the Beales, respectively, are all the sort of clearly complex character any actor would love to play.

So with compelling characters and ready-made stories, the road to scripted success should be pretty smooth, right?

Not necessarily.

Director Stacy Peralta‘s 2002 skater doc “Dogtown and Z-Boys” generated the same kind of buzz that “The King of Kong” is getting, but the $25 million remake “Lords of Dogtown,” which Peralta scripted for director Catherine Hardwicke, took in just $11.5 million.

“When you go from a documentary to a feature, you are then making a product,” says Peralta. “You’re making something that has quite serious expectations on it. Documentaries don’t have those kinds of expectations.”

Flynn, Cunningham, and Gordon are all hoping their doc will make the leap to star vehicle handily. “This will definitely be a bigger-budget studio version, say Flynn. “But there’s no reason for it to be hugely expensive.”

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