“On the Ropes,” a documentary about amateur boxers from Bedford Stuyvesant, which is in Oscar contention for best documentary, has been optioned by Warner Bros. for a fictionalized feature that will be directed by Brad Silberling and written by Ann Peacock, who won an Emmy scripting “A Prayer Before Dying.”
Rights to the feature and life rights to its subjects have been acquired in a mid-six-figure option for a pic that will be produced by Silberling and his Reveal Entertainment partner Barry Isaacson with Outlaw Prods.’ Bobby Newmyer, Jeffrey Silver and Scott Strauss.
For the docu, directors Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen spent two years in a Brooklyn gym run by a former boxer whose dreams of glory were dashed when he succumbed to the temptations of the street, got hooked on crack and wound up shooting his cousin and doing time. He used the gym to gain redemption for his past by training young fighters, who are required to stay in school for the chance to get in the ring.
The film focuses in on three kids he trains, each of whom has as compelling a story as their mentor. One is a standout boxer whose Golden Gloves championship puts the trainer at risk of getting left behind when pro managers come circling; another is a sweet but undisciplined teen whose growing truancy is pushing him dangerously toward the streets; another is a female whose awesome boxing ability is offset by a responsibility she’s taken on to care for two younger cousins after their mother dies from AIDS. Tragically, the young boxer is implicated in a drug raid directed at her uncle, a drug addict who’s suffering from AIDS as well. Though she’s clearly the class of the competition, the woman, Tyrene Manson, is unable to make her Golden Gloves championship match because her trial runs long. She winds up being convicted despite little evidence against her and is separated from her cousins during a jail stretch.
Silberling will focus on the latter story, amalgamating qualities and storylines with the other characters in the docu.
“I’m interested in collapsing a lot of elements and loyalty and focus and putting them onto Tyrene, a woman who reminds me of the human tenacity from my mentor Marty Ritt’s ‘Norma Rae,’ another character who shows strength and perseverance in the face of so little hope,” Silberling said.
In the film, the Tyrene character becomes the fighter on the fast track, who’s tempted by promoters to turn pro, leaving behind her trainer and friend. “It’s a wonderful story about the human spirit, of people facing enormous odds and overcoming them,” said Silberling, who is also contending with numerous helmers to be director of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Otherwise, his next pic will be “Baby’s in Black,” which could start in June with Susan Sarandon the only star cast so far.
Project is being shepherded at Warner Bros. by Courtenay Valenti.
FEW MORE YARDS FOR PERRY, FRANCHISE: After toplining with Bruce Willis in the Franchise Pictures/Warner Bros. hit comedy “The Whole Nine Yards,” Matthew Perry has signed a deal with Franchise that should lead to him starring in future projects for Franchise chairman-CEO Elie Samaha and prexy Andrew Stevens. He joins a Franchise star stable that currently consists of Willis and Sylvester Stallone. While heavily marketed pics from “Boiler Room” to “Reindeer Games” have dropped from sight, “The Whole Nine Yards” has topped the box office charts for two weeks running, with a gross so far of more than $30 million. “Matthew is a terrific actor with amazing comic ability who also has great leading man qualities,” Samaha said. Perry’s reading scripts to decide what feature to do on his “Friends” hiatus, with the expectation that negotiations currently under way will lead to a series extension. While Gotham press reports picked up a speculative guess from this column that the cast could expect $600,000 an episode, sources said that the actual payday will depend on whether the cast agrees to come back for one more season or two. If it’s the latter, the money figure will be higher than if the cast comes back for just a final season. Perry’s repped by CAA and manager Doug Chapin.
WANG WRANGLES CAST: While Wayne Wang’s upcoming film “The Center of the World” is perhaps the most sexually explicit project to come along since “Last Tango in Paris,” the director has gotten good young actors to topline. The film, a negative pickup by Artisan Entertainment which will be shot in digital video, concerns a day trader who engages in a torrid liaison with a stripper, which has lingering consequences. The day trader will be played by Peter Sarsgaard, who recently was featured in “Boys Don’t Cry” and co-stars in the P.J. Hogan-directed “Unconditional Love” for New Line. He’ll star with Molly Parker, an up-and-comer who recently starred in the quirky indie pic “Kissed” and just completed “Sunshine” opposite Ralph Fiennes. Sarsgaard is repped by CAA and MJ Management’s Jon Rubinstein, while Parker is repped by William Morris. The pic, scripted by Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt, will shoot this spring. Wang and Peter Newman will produce, with Ira Deutchman and Greg Johnson exec producing.
RAVERS FIND REPS: Greg Harrison and Danielle Renfrew, the team behind the rave scene pic “Groove,” which was one of the most popular films at Sundance, have signed with William Morris’s John Burnham, David Lubliner and Joel Lubin. Harrison wrote and directed the pic and Renfrew produced, and the San Francisco-based duo intend to remain a team. If you throw a snowball at Sundance and don’t hit a journalist, you’ll probably hit an agent because there are so many at the fest, and the duo, who heard deafening silence the year before when they came to Sundance to pitch their film idea, was courted by all of them even before Sony Classics completed a $1.5 million film buy. “We felt like deers caught in the headlights,” Harrison recalled. WMA will shepherd a road trip script Harrison wrote called “Blue Sky Driving” as a possible next project, though they are also looking at other scripts. “Groove’s” first L.A. showing will be tonight on the Sony lot.