Kennedy/Marshall will develop story of heroic pilot

The Kennedy/Marshall Co. and Flashlight Films will fly with Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, optioning the film rights to the heroic pilot’s memoir recounting how he ditched U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River.

Sullenberger penned “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters” with Jeffrey Zaslow.

Frank Marshall will produce with Flashlight Films’ Allyn Stewart. Exec producers are Kathleen Kennedy and Flashlight’s Kipp Nelson.

Flashlight is financing development of the project, which now goes out to writers. No studio is yet attached.

Sullenberger and his wife Lorrie will serve as consultants on the film, which could be a theatrical feature or a television movie.

It’s been nearly a year since William Morrow published “Highest Duty.” Other parties had approached Sullenberger, but he was leery about optioning the rights. That changed when he met Harrison Ford at an aviation event. Ford, who isn’t attached to the project, is a licensed pilot.

Sullenberger asked Ford’s advice, and he recommended Marshall and Kennedy as a go-to producing team. Ford has longtime ties to the pair, producers of the “Indiana Jones” franchise.

“It was my lucky day,” Marshall said. “Kathy and I have always been attracted to regular people in extraordinary situations. This guy is a true American hero. What I love about this story is that it’s positive at a time when everything is negative.”

Brillstein Entertainment, which reps Sullenberger, negotiated the deal.

Sullenberger, a pilot for more than four decades, was catapulted to fame after birds flew into the engines of Flight 1549 on Jan. 15, 2009, crippling the jet. He landed the plane safely on the Hudson, saving the lives of all 155 passengers on board. The event was captured by cameras and broadcast around the world.

“Highest Duty” reflects on that day, as well as Sullenberger’s childhood love of planes and his flying career — as well as how he and his family coped with the onslaught of sudden celebrity.

“The amazing thing was, Flight 1549 only lasted 3½ minutes, but Sully made all the right decisions, against all the odds. I do feel like all those decisions were informed by his past experiences and training. He is the pilot we all want to be up front in the cockpit,” Marshall said.

Kennedy and Marshall are next in theaters with Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” for Warner.

Flashlight is a screenplay development fund whose principals are Stewart, a former studio production exec, and Nelson, an entrepreneur and former Goldman Sachs partner.

While a senior production exec at Warner Bros., Stewart worked on films including “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Memphis Belle.” She left Warners for a production deal at Columbia Pictures, teaming with producer Stanley Jaffe. Duo produced “Madeline” and “I Dreamed of Africa,” among other titles. Nelson spent a decade at Goldman Sachs, including serving as co-head of the distressed debt business for Asia, co-managing a $1.6 billion investment fund and making proprietary investments for Goldman.Sullenberger is repped by Brillstein.

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