Patience has paid off for the producers behind two long-gestating films based on young adult novels “The Giver” and “The Watsons Go to Birmingham” as the projects are getting closer to a greenlight through Tonik Prods., a new shingle formed by Nikki Silver and Tonya Lewis Lee.
Jeff Bridges is still attached to star in the adaptation of Lois Lowry’s tale about a boy who lives in a futuristic utopian society and finds himself in turmoil when he inherits the role of the Giver and bears his community’s range of human emotions, realizing that living a pain-free life comes at a high cost.
Walden Media has also come aboard “Watsons Go to Birmingham,” based on Christopher Paul Curtis’ novel. Project will be produced as a TV movie for Hallmark Channel.
Story revolves around a nine-year-old boy whose family experiences one of the most chilling moments in America’s history: the burning of the Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church, in Birmingham, Ala., during the summer of 1963, that led to the historic March On Washington, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Production starts in April, in Atlanta, with Kenny Leon (“Steel Magnolias,” “Raisin in the Sun”) directing from a script by Lee.
Silver and Lee set up Tonik (a combo of their names) to develop and produce film and TV projects that are entertaining but thought provoking.
“We both realized we had a similar sensibility but we come from different worlds in a sense,” said Lee, who is married to director Spike Lee. “We are people who like to have real conversations that are somewhat difficult but make us smarter. We really wanted to make entertaining, fun, quality work that makes people think.”
While it has several of its own original projects in development, so far Tonik has focused on adapting novels, since “we’re both big readers,” Lee said. “We love good literature and there’s nothing more wonderful than to bring a book to life.”
With that in mind, Silver and Lee aim to remain faithful to the books, working closely with the authors.
“The author has to be the one who ultimately decides who gets the rights to the material and they have to trust you,” Silver said. “We want to keep their vision; it’s important to us. That’s an essential relationship.”
Other projects in development include adaptations of Walter Dean Myers’ “Monster,” that Radha Blank is scripting, and Mary Dearborn’s “Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim,” a biopic that Lee and Dan Friedman are penning.
Shingle is based in New York City’s Flatiron district.
In development for over 15 years, and initially developed for Lloyd Bridges, the film rights to “The Giver” exchanged several hands during that time before Bridges and Silver reunited on the project and set it up at family shingle On Screen Entertainment in 2011.
With the Weinstein Co. and Walden Media now on board, the adaptation is “closer than it’s ever been,” to becoming a film, said Silver who has always been hopeful in getting “The Giver” onto the bigscreen. “‘The Giver’ has definitely been a journey,” Silver said.
Bridges will produce the film with Tonik through his As Is production banner, with Bridges, Silver and the actor’s longtime manager Neil Koenigsberg serving as producers.
They are working off a script that Vadim Perelman (“The House of Sand and Fog”) wrote.
“The Giver” was first published in 1994, when it was optioned by TV syndicator Lancit Media and then family program producer RCN Entertainment (behind PBS kidlit series “Reading Rainbow”). Silver was an exec at both Lancit and RCN.
“Watsons” also has been a project that Silver and Lee have pursued for awhile — since they worked together on “Miracle’s Boys” in 2005.
“We’re very lucky to have these two legacy projects to jumpstart the company,” Silver said. “This is the foundation and we’re now excited to build a house. If you have good quality material anything is possible. Between the two of us, we believe there’s nothing you can’t get done.”