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‘Hughes’ to Castle Rock

'Memento's' Nolan to helm and pen script

Castle Rock has nabbed the rights to the Richard Hack book “Hughes: The Private Diaries, Letters and Memos,” a book that will form the basis for a Howard Hughes biopic to star Jim Carrey.

“Memento” helmer Christopher Nolan is directing and writing the script.

Hack’s New Millennium book had stars and studios circling because the book was informed by diaries and letters provided by Robert Mahue, a Hughes confidante who is also aboard the project as a consultant and will provide access to other proprietary underlying source material for the project. The bidding battle began last month, when Daily Variety revealed that Carrey and Nolan were chasing the book but were determined to make a Hughes movie together whether they got it or not.

Just as passionate about the book was Scott Steindorff, a producer with origins in Las Vegas real estate, who engineered a calculated and clever gamble by going directly to New Millennium publisher Michael Viner and optioning the material out from under the noses of studios. Viner conceived the book and set Hack to write it, and the publisher controlled the film rights and had allowed multiple parties to assemble the best package and make the best offer.

Steindorff scores rights

Steindorff chased the Hughes rights before the title became a critical sensation and bestseller. He promised Viner a richer deal than was offered by studios, which at the time were hiding their talent attachments.

Once Steindorff sectioned off those rights for his Stone Village Prods. shingle, studio execs found themselves grudgingly dealing for the book’s rights through Steindorff’s agent, Innovative Artists’ Graham Kaye, who became the point person on the deal.

Undeterred were Carrey’s managers, Jimmy Miller and Eric Gold, who worked with UTA, the agency for both the star and director. They were determined to get the property for Carrey, much as they once nearly pulled off a deal to control rights to Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” before Universal made the deal with Imagine, and Carrey became that pic’s star.

In the deal’s early days, it looked like Carrey-Nolan would be aligned with U. But the frenzied activity roused the interest of Castle Rock, which is about to release the Frank Darabont-directed Carrey starrer “The Majestic” and wanted a return date with the actor. Castle Rock’s Martin Shafer and Liz Glotzer stepped in and are putting the finishing touches on a deal that will be worth seven figures if the film gets made.

Nolan to pen

Nolan, who followed “Memento” by directing the Al Pacino/Robin Williams drama “Insomnia,” will begin writing the Hughes film immediately. Steindorff will produce with Carrey and Nolan, while Viner and his publishing partner Deborah Raffin are exec producers.

The project becomes the latest and perhaps most viable attempt to mount a Hughes biopic among a list as long as the latter-year Hughes’ talons. The most viable rival project is a Hughes pic scripted by “Gladiator” co-writer John Logan for “Ali” director Michael Mann. That pic was expected to star Leonardo DiCaprio and relocated from Disney to New Line last year.

Elsewhere, Warren Beatty developed a project, and there was talk of a New Regency project that had interest from director Milos Forman and Edward Norton. The latter project stalled, and there is also a Mutual Film project focusing on “The Hoax,” Clifford Irving’s book about how he sold a bogus bio of Hughes to McGraw-Hill and served time for the ruse after Hughes alerted the publisher that the story was not his.

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