“Grey Gardens” helmer Michael Sucsy will make his feature directorial debut on “Goree Girls,” with Jennifer Aniston headlining the true story of an all-female country band in a Texas prison in the 1940s.
The project will begin production in January, financed by Overnight Prods. Overnight’s Rick Schwartz and Aaron Kaufman have joined Aniston and her Echo Films partner Kristin Hahn as producers.
Overnight made a deal with DreamWorks to take the picture out of turnaround.
“Goree Girls” is the third recent studio-developed property that the Gotham-based production company will put into production. Overnight has a November start set on the Darren Aronofsky-directed “Black Swan,” a ballet thriller developed at Universal that will star Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. And it will start production next year on the Jonathan Jakubowicz-directed “Southbound,” a border drama developed at Warner Bros. that will star Matthew McConaughey and Eva Mendes.
No studio wants to let go of a project that can be turned into a hit elsewhere and come back to haunt its original owner, as the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” did to Warner Bros. and “Twilight” did to Paramount. In picking up material from turnaround, Overnight is trying to remove some of the risk of such regret by paying back most of the overhead and interest charges spent to develop the project and by giving the studio first crack at distribution.
In “Goree Girls,” Sucsy will polish the most recent draft by John Lee Hancock, who polished an original by Margaret Nagle based on a 2003 Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth. His story was about the eight women who formed one of the first all-girl C&W acts in the country, became a public favorite and were eventually pardoned.
Sucsy, who is up for several of the 17 Emmy Award nominations that “Grey Gardens” earned for HBO, finds himself once again at the center of a female-centric project. “If you connect the dots between these projects, I think they are both survivor stories, about people whose human spirit doesn’t give up, and it’s musically driven, the way ‘Grey Gardens’ was,” Sucsy told Daily Variety. “There is something about music that invigorates the spirit to keep going, even when you don’t have freedom.”
Overnight was formed two years ago by Schwartz, who spent seven years working for Miramax, where he was a hands-on exec who supervised such films as “The Others,” “Gangs of New York” and “Malena.” He then formed Blueprint with Graham King and worked on projects such as “The Aviator” and “The Departed.”
Schwartz’s company specializes in films in the $15 million-$30 million range — the size of a project that many studios are ignoring — and has been able to amass a development fund and production financing that isn’t contingent on distribution deals.
Overnight has completed its first film, the thriller “13,” the Gela Babluani-directed remake of his own 2005 film “13 Tzameti.” The cast includes Jason Statham, Ray Winstone, Mickey Rourke and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.
Schwartz’s company began production this week on “Machete,” the film that Robert Rodriguez is co-directing with protege Ethan Maniquis, with Danny Trejo playing the title character.