You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Hollywood hot for hostage drama

Producers, players rush to make rights deals

Just one week after 15 hostages were freed by Colombian commandos, Hollywood has come knocking.

Several potential projects are already taking shape, and producers have begun tracking down almost everyone involved to make rights deals.

Rumors are rife that Ingrid Betancourt — taken hostage in 2002 as she ran for president of Colombia — will sign with French lit agent Susannah Lea and seek a major book and movie deal.

Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes, the three American contractors freed with her, are back in Texas and mulling their potential rights-deal paydays. D.C.-based McLarty Associates, the consulting powerhouse that helped broker the trio’s freedom, has steered the former hostages to meet with United Talent Agency, which has worked with McLarty in the past.

The trio were captured in 2003 by FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

Meanwhile, Scott Steindorff and Las Vegas-based Phil Maloof are negotiating to get the rights to the Colombian government’s story of how it pulled off the bloodless liberations.

The operation included infiltrating FARC’s intelligence network and employing acting teachers and speech therapists to fool the kidnappers into thinking that the helicopters that landed deep in the jungles were sent by a humanitarian group.

Steindorff filmed “Love in the Time of Cholera” in Cartagena, Colombia, and became friendly with government officials during his work there.

Joel Gotler — whose IPG has an ownership connection to Steindorff’s Stone Village Prods. — is angling to rep the rights and put together a book about the rescue that would be done in concert with President Alvaro Uribe’s government. If the book happens, it would be part of the Steindorff/Maloof film rights package.

There are other rights avenues available as well. Aside from McLarty and potentially the three American hostages, UTA is shopping film rights to “Into the Jungle,” a book that lit agent Peter McGuigan sold to Knopf, written by Victoria Bruce, Karin Hayes and Jorge Enrique Botero. Bruce and Hayes made documentaries about the kidnapping of Betancourt and the American contractors, and Colombia-based Botero has written extensively about FARC. Book will be published next year.

Colombian director Simon Brand is mobilizing a film with RCN-TV.

Separately, Venezuelan thesp Patricia Velasquez (“The Mummy,” “The Mummy Returns”) has landed rights to “Searching for Ingrid,” the memoir of Betancourt’s husband, Juan Carlos Lecompte, which details his struggle to find his wife and secure her liberation.

Ivan de Paz of DePaz Films and Lourdes Diaz of Agua Films are producing with Laura Carrillo and Velasquez for Wayuu Prods. They are collaborating with Venezuelan helmer-scribe Betty Kaplan, who wrote the treatment. They hope to shoot next year in Europe and Latin America, according to de Paz.

“We had just finished the treatment and presentation the day before Ingrid’s release,” Velasquez said. “Her release changes our treatment, which had a poetic ending and a call for her freedom and others like her. Now we have a better ending, but the struggle has not ended.”

Story had been kept under wraps for security reasons, but the film’s production team is now free to secure financing from Colombian financiers.

“We have been getting calls from everywhere, but my main goal is to respect the integrity of Lecompte’s story and his family,” said Velasquez, whose Wayuu Taya Foundation is dedicated to improving the living conditions of Latin American indigenous groups.

The big “get,” of course, would be the rights from Betancourt, who just reunited with her children and received a hero’s welcome in France from President Nicolas Sarkozy. As rumors swirl about potential book and movie plans, there will be an October reissue of “Until Death Do Us Part,” a memoir Betancourt wrote in 2001, when she was a senator running for president in Colombia, vowing to clean up government corruption.

She also has a byline on “Letters to My Mother: A Message of Love, a Plea for Freedom,” which consisted mostly of a videotape and long letter Betancourt wrote to her mother while in captivity. Several agents and producers felt that hers is a strong vehicle for a top actress. Not surprisingly, Julia Roberts’ production company has long been interested in telling Betancourt’s story, but it was unclear how her release would impact those aspirations.

In an otherwise sluggish summer marketplace for film material, the Colombian jungle tale has brought welcome activity, even as agents and producers wondered whether it had the staying power necessary for the several years it usually takes to bring a major fact-based film to the bigscreen.

David Kennedy, who’s producing “Dark Shadows” at Warner Bros. with Johnny Depp and Graham King, said he’s near a rights deal that will give him ammo to set up a Colombian rescue feature. When he ran ICM’s TV department, Kennedy packaged the 1977 NBC telepic “Raid on Entebbe,” and he said the Colombian tale has similar can’t-miss elements for a theatrical feature.

“It’s as memorable as Entebbe, the Hindenburg disaster or other huge events that stay with us,” he said. “And you’ve got several possible approaches, from the kidnap of a presidential candidate who is now being called France’s new Joan of Arc to what happened during captivity to the well-orchestrated rescue itself.”

One skeptical lit agent, who wasn’t involved, felt the story isn’t quite as ideal for a film adaptation as others assume.

“It lacks what Americans love in movies: There is no violence in the rescue,” he said.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Gina Rodriguez'Someone Great' film premiere, Arrivals,

    Gina Rodriguez Apologizes After Rapping N-Word in Deleted Instagram Video

    “Jane The Virgin” star Gina Rodriguez has released an apology video shortly after she used the N-word while rapping along to a Fugees song in a video posted to her Instagram story. In the original video, which has since been deleted, Rodriguez raps along to “Ready or Not” while having her hair and makeup done. [...]

  • After a Revolution

    Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund Winners Announced

    The Tribeca Film Institute and Gucci announced on Tuesday this year’s recipients for the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund. Now in its 12th year, TFI and Gucci have awarded $140,000 in grant funding, covered by Gucci, to support nine documentaries highlighting domestic and international matters, with a focus on female-led stories and filmmakers. The funding will [...]

  • countdown

    Apple Takes Down Viral 'Countdown' Horror App, STX Brings It to Android Instead

    An app that can predict the date and time of your death may have been too much for Apple to stomach: The iPhone maker removed a viral app inspired by the upcoming horror movie “Countdown” a few days ago, putting an end to its meteoric rise. Before its removal, “Countdown” had surpassed TikTok, YouTube and [...]

  • Babyteeth Eliza Scanlen

    Eliza Scanlen Drama 'Babyteeth' Lands at IFC for North America (EXCLUSIVE)

    IFC Films has acquired North American rights to the drama “Babyteeth,” starring Eliza Scanlen, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn, and Toby Wallace, Variety has learned exclusively. The film had its world premiere in competition at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival, where Wallace won the Marcello Mastroianni award for best new young performer. It will be [...]

  • Neil Patrick Harris arrives at night

    'Matrix 4': Neil Patrick Harris Lands Role in Latest Installment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Neil Patrick Harris is the latest addition to the ensemble cast for the upcoming fourth installment of the “Matrix” franchise. He joins Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, who will be reprising their roles in the film, as well as Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who was tapped as one of the leads last week. Plot details are [...]

  • Amanda Seyfried attends a special screening

    Amanda Seyfried Joins Gary Oldman in David Fincher's 'Mank'

    Amanda Seyfried is set to join Netflix’s “Mank,” David Fincher’s latest biopic revolving around “Citizen Kane” screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, with Gary Oldman tapped to play the titular role. Lily Collins, Charles Dance, Tuppence Middleton, Arliss Howard, Ferdinand Kingsley, Jamie McShane, Joseph Cross, Sam Troughton, Toby Leonard Moore, Tom Burke, and Tom Pelphrey will also appear [...]

  • Cuba Gooding Jr

    Cuba Gooding Jr. Accused of Groping 14 Women at Bars and Clubs

    Prosecutors on Tuesday accused Cuba Gooding, Jr., of a long-standing pattern of approaching unfamiliar women in bars and kissing, pinching, biting or groping them. Gooding appeared in court in Manhattan for an arraignment on four misdemeanor counts of forcible touching and third degree sexual abuse. He pleaded not guilty, and is due back in court [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content