New entrant in contest to make Joplin biopic

Thesp Theodore to play singer

Connecticut-based producer-director Joel L. Freedman and his Cinnamon Prods. have taken the lead in a race to make a feature film about singer Janis Joplin.

The indie company is going ahead with a film, budgeted in the $5 million range, that will star singer-actress Laura Theodore in the title role and is slated to go into production early next year.

Roy Scheider is in talks to play Joplin’s manager, Albert Grossman.

At least two other companies have had films in development for more than five years: Paramount-based Lakeshore Entertainment and Gotham-based Redeemable Features.

Lakeshore’s project — titled “Piece of My Heart” after the song on the album “Cheap Thrills” that launched her career — was at one point to be helmed by Marc Rocco (“Murder in the First”) with Melissa Etheridge to star. After both director and star fell out, helmer Gary Fleder (“Kiss the Girls”) was attached to direct with Brittany Murphy (“Clueless”) to star. But that package fell apart, and it remains unclear where Lakeshore’s production stands.

Redeemable’s Joplin project, picked up in turnaround from Sony, was written and will be directed by Nancy Savoca (“True Love”). Jonathan Demme has been attached to exec produce. Pic will star Lili Taylor (“I Shot Andy Warhol”). Budgeted in the $15 million to $20 million range, pic is in active development, with the producers expecting a year 2000 start.

Redeemable, in partnership with the Joplin family, owns Joplin’s life rights. The company also owns most of the publishing rights to Joplin’s music as well as all of the performance rights to her songs, including “Mercedes Benz” and the Kris Kristofferson-penned”Me and Bobby McGee.”

Lakeshore agreed to pay more than $1 million for the rights to “Piece of My Heart,” but the company lacks rights to many of the other major songs.

Freedman, who wrote his screenplay from interviews with friends of Joplin, executive produced “Brainstorm,” the MGM pic that starred Natalie Wood and Christopher Walken. He is also the producer-director of such films as “Treaty at Battle Mountain” and “To Protect Mother Earth” (both narrated by Robert Redford).

Theodore, a singer in her own right, received the Denver Drama Critics Circle Award for best actress in a musical for her rendition of Joplin in “Love Janis.”

Freedman says he has secured rights to some of Joplin’s lesser-known songs and many of the songs that she sang but didn’t write.