As dual Janis Joplin film projects vie to reach the starting gate this fall, two other 1960s topics are the center of rival projects: activist Abbie Hoffman and the Cuban missile crisis.
Robert Greenwald (the upcoming “Breaking Up” from New Regency) plans to produce and direct an indie film on Hoffman. At the same time, “The Rose” director Mark Rydell hopes to get studio financing for his Hoffman pic, which he’ll produce with Tony Lord, Matt Weaver and screenwriter Mark Groubert.
Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight and Illusion Entertainment are facing off against Beacon Pictures on Cuban missile movies. Hugh Whitemore (“The Final Days”) has scripted a pic in the $10 million range for Illusion and Fox Searchlight; Beacon chairman Armyan Bernstein has engaged Lawrence Kasdan to rewrite a David Self script that may be directed by Kasdan — whose “Wyatt Earp” came out on the short end of a shootout with “Tombstone.”
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In the Hoffman race, unlike most biopic races, neither contestant owns official rights to the story of the protester/antiwar activist, who was tried as a member of the Chicago Seven, went underground and hid from the FBI from 1974 to 1981, and committed suicide in 1989.
Hoffman sold rights to his story years ago to Universal for a rumored $250,000, and the studio has no current plans to use them.
Greenwald, whose pic is called “Abbie: None of the Above,” has a script by Bruce Graham (the upcoming animated “Anastasia”) and has money ready for a project he feels will cost less than $10 million.
Greenwald has optioned two books, including “To America With Love: Letters from the Underground,” by Hoffman and his wife, Anita. He’s got Anita and Abbie Hoffman’s longtime lawyer, Gerry Lefcourt, as consultants, and is near deals for a soundtrack and a docu on the making of the pic, he said.
“Abbie was a true patriot, the epitome of a time in this country when it was a thing of pride to be committed to something beyond your own greed or narcissism,” Greenwald said. A cocaine bust prompted Hoffman to go underground, but Greenwald has unearthed FBI documents that he said indicate the feds might have set him up.
Rydell’s pic is based on public domain material, scripted by former National Lampoon editor Mark Groubert, a fan of Hoffman since he stole the activist’s rabble-rousing tome “Steal This Book.”
“I’ve been interviewing people since he died in 1989, and found his underground period the most fascinating part of his story,” Groubert said. “He’s being pursued by the FBI, is on their 10 Most Wanted List, and, while most radicals would hide, he surfaced as Barry Freed to testify on Capitol Hill.”
Groubert said Rydell is talking to Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack, Richard Dreyfuss, Robin Williams and Eric Bogosian to star. Once they hook a star, they’ll take it to a studio for the $25 million budget.
On the dueling missile movies, Beacon’s is described as a big-budget “Apollo 13-like” look at the standoff between the Kennedy White House and the Soviets over the installation of missiles in Cuba. The Fox Searchlight pic focuses more on the White House.
BARRIS’ SECRET LIFE BARED: If Chuck Barris tried to pitch a movie on his life creating gameshows, he’d surely get gonged all over Hollywood. But “The Gong Show” guru’s decision to write about his life as a CIA hitman has landed him in the lightning round. Warner Bros. has optioned the 1984 Barris book, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: The Unauthorized Autobiography of Chuck Barris.”
The film will be produced by Andrew Lazar (“Bound”) and Rand Ravich, who brought it to WB execs Michael Andreen and co-prexy Lorenzo di Bonaventura. They’re in talks with scripter Charlie Kaufman, who wrote the Spike Jonze-directed Propaganda pic “Being John Malkovich.”
According to Barris, he was a domestic Austin Powers. In his early days as a faltering producer, he says he answered a CIA recruitment ad and was soon infiltrating the Black Panthers. Later, when he created “The Dating Game,” Barris got the CIA code name Sunny Sixkiller and chaperoned winning daters to exotic locales; as his charges got acquainted, he bumped off KGB operatives, he asserts.
Barris then became a critically reviled household name for “The Gong Show,” in which people made fools of themselves for a panel of judges who gonged the talent-impaired. In his book, Barris wrote that he went to D.C. to be secretly lauded for his government work: “I was thinking about the strange dichotomy of being crucified by my peers for attempting to entertain people and lauded by my peers for killing them.”
Barris originally sold his memoirs to Columbia during Dawn Steel’s regime, and she greenlit a pic with Jim McBride directing. Steel got axed, and while she got some lovely parting gifts, the project died. WB’s starting fresh.
Of course, Barris, who’s agented by Daniel Ostroff, made up the whole CIA thing. But why else make a movie about a gameshow magnate?
DISHINGS: Romi Lassally, president of Mark Johnson Prods., has decided to exit her post by the end of the month to concentrate on a bigger production: her second child, and first with Warner Bros. exec veep Tom Lassally. The baby’s due at the end of the year. She’ll see through the projects she developed for the DreamWorks-based Johnson.