Producers team on story of mistaken identity

Producers David Friendly, Mark Clayman and Michael Menchel are teaming to develop a feature based on “Picking Cotton,” the memoir by rape victim Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and the man she mistakenly identified, Ronald Cotton.

The producers have tapped Todd Komarnicki (“Elf”) to pen the adaptation.

Thompson-Cannino was raped as a college student in 1984 and later identified the 22-year-old Cotton as her attacker, leading to a jury conviction and sentence of life in prison. Cotton maintained his innocence and was freed 11 years later, thanks to DNA testing; Thompson-Cannino and Cotton then met, became friends and began traveling together through the Innocence Project to promote understanding about flaws in the criminal justice system.

Komarnicki, who also penned “Perfect Stranger” for Sony, recently met with Thompson-Cannino and Cotton in North Carolina.

“What they’ve done is incredibly inspirational in terms of showing how powerful forgiveness is,” he added. “It makes me examine how I live my own life.”

Friendly (“Little Miss Sunshine”) decided to become involved with the book when he saw a “60 Minutes” story about Cotton and Thompson-Cannino.

“I burst into tears while watching it, which is usually a pretty good sign that something’s a viable property,” he told Daily Variety.

Thompson-Cannino and Cotton co-wrote the book, published last year, with Erin Torneo. Friendly, who’s producing through his Friendly Films shingle, is partnered with producer Clayman (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) through his Veralux Media banner and agent-turned-producer Menchel (“Escape”).

The trio has lined up development financing for the project through Brad Reeves.

“We felt that we could not sell this to the studios without getting it financed first,” Friendly said.

Reeves and Todd Shuster, who are teaming with Clayman on the in-development “Same Kind of Different as Me,” are exec producing along with Komarnicki.

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