Whitaker to coach ‘Patriots’ for TWC

Tim Story set to direct basketball drama

The Weinstein Co. is negotiating with Forest Whitaker to star in and Tim Story to direct “Patriots,” a drama that will begin production in early April.

Whitaker would play Al Collins, basketball coach for John Ehret High in Marrero, La., who led his Patriots to the state championship a year after Katrina ravaged the school and displaced many of its students. Collins’ team consisted of 10 players who attended five different schools before the disaster.The fact-based drama becomes the first film to firm up a start date as a direct result of an interim agreement made between the WGA and an independent studio. TWC/Dimension’s Harvey and Bob Weinstein made the WGA deal late last week, and with both Story and Whitaker available, the film will complete shooting before the expiration of the SAG contract in June.

“Patriots” marks a reteam for Whitaker, TWC and screenwriter Robert Eisele, who wrote “The Great Debaters” and also scripted “Patriots.” The hope is to release “Patriots” around Thanksgiving, replicating the release strategy used on the Denzel Washington-directed “The Great Debaters.”

“Patriots” will be produced by IAM Entertainment’s Raymond Brothers and Scott Glassgold, along with Story. Brothers, an attorney who worked for Mike Ovitz’s sports division of AMG before starting his own firm, optioned the coach’s life rights. He, Story and Eisele developed the script together.

“I’ve gotten caught up with the ‘Fantastic Four’ films but wanted to find a smaller film with heart, that brought me back to ‘Barbershop,’ and this has come together with one of the best actors out there,” Story said. “What Coach Collins did to give back the lives of his players is so inspiring.”

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