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War of words as Scrabble pix heat up

Hanson, M'max set up board for dueling projects

What’s a three-letter word for rivalry?

The 53-year-old word game Scrabble has suddenly become a hot property, with Curtis Hanson and partner Carol Fenelon optioning Stefan Fatsis’ nonfiction book “Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble,” and Miramax Films paying low against mid-six figures to acquire the spec “Your Word Against Mine,” a romantic comedy set — you guessed it — in the hyper-competitive world of tournament Scrabble.

Five months ago, as Hanson was honing on the rights to “Word Freak” — which Wall Street Journal writer Fatsis spent a year researching, becoming in turn an obsessed Scrabble player in the process — “Your Word” writers Peter Speakman and Michael M.B. Galvin were turning in their first draft to Rob Pritts’ Backyard Prods., which hired the duo to pen a Scrabble comedy last September.

Word play

Published July 7 by Houghton Mifflin Co., “Word Freak” is the story of Fatsis’ journey through and study of the eccentrics whose lives are measured out in Scrabble tiles. It’s preparing to enter its third printing.

“Your Word Against Mine” — a title based on a slogan of the Scrabble world — revolves around a young man who has given up almost everything in his life to achieve his goal of becoming the national Scrabble champion when he meets an equally competitive woman who throws him off his game.

Miramax’s first look at “Your Word” came courtesy of Speakman’s day job as assistant to Dimension Films production co-head Brad Weston.

Although Scrabble is not traditionally a game of speed, Miramax intends to put the picture on a fast track pending a final polish. Pic will be exec produced by Backyard’s Pritts, Blair Stribley and Anne Edgar. Pritts recently helmed the upcoming Disney comedy “Corky Romano.”

Galvin and Speakman, who previously wrote “Freak Talks About Sex,” starring Steve Zahn and Josh Hamilton, researched the script via Sports Illustrated articles about competitive Scrabble as well as trips to championships in Providence, R.I., and in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park.

Along the way, Speakman said, they crossed paths with Fatsis, who became a competitive Scrabble player himself while penning his tome.

“We didn’t really base the script on any particular characters we met, but got permission to interview a bunch of people to research the script,” Galvin says. “I’ve always been a Scrabble player, but I had no idea how deep the culture of Scrabble was until we started this.”

Galvin and Speakman, repped by Benderspink and Endeavor, ended up penning the script after being brought in by Backyard to pitch for the project. Company has been developing a scrabble project, originally titled “My Word Against Yours” (Daily Variety, July 24).

Weston and Robbie Brenner, VP of development, brought “Mine” into Miramax Films where Jeremy Kramer, senior VP of development, and Brenner will oversee the project for Miramax production prexy Meryl Poster.

Hanson and Fenelon are repped by UTA, which also reps Fatsis on behalf of San Francisco’s the Robert Shepard Agency.

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