Exclusive: Disney wants to put Texas high school theater teacher Lynn Shaw centerstage as the star of the studio’s latest inspirational tale.
Producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar have tapped “Erin Brockovich” scribe Susannah Grant to pen an untitled project about Shaw, who transformed the defunct drama department at J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas, into one of the country’s top theater programs.
Shaw died from breast cancer in August 2009 after having beaten it nine years earlier.
Gough and Millar will produce the pic for Disney through their Mouse House-based shingle Millar/Gough Ink, which is also developing the tentpole “Hover Car Racer” for the studio. Janice Tomlin, whose daughter was one of Shaw’s students, will co-produce.
The producers sparked to the idea of a film about Shaw last year after watching a “Nightline” segment on the teacher that revolved around her former students at J.J. Pearce coming together to perform a musical about her life. The production was initially developed with Shaw, but when she died, the students still went forward with the show.
“It was one of those stories where we said, ‘This is a movie,'” Gough told Variety on his way to Miami to film the pilot for ABC’s reboot of “Charlie’s Angels,” which Gough and Millar wrote and will exec produce.
Shaw’s story would fit well with Disney’s penchant for feel-good fare like “Mr. Holland’s Opus” but has recently revolved more around sports stories like those in “Miracle,” “The Rookie,” “Remember the Titans” and “Secretariat.”
Disney wants to continue using such pics to round out a slate filled with bigger-budgeted tentpoles like the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, Marvel superhero actioners and animated features.
Naturally, Shaw’s story — she made a practice of reaching out to students who may not have thought about performing in theater — would also tap into audiences’ growing interest in musical-centric projects like “Glee.”
“Neither Miles nor I are huge sports people, but it was a way to capture the emotion of those movies that appeal to a wide audience,” Gough said. “For us, (Shaw’s story) also falls into that kind of vein, but as opposed to a coach-players relationship, it’s a teacher-students relationship.”
Gough added that the key to getting the project off the ground was “finding the right writer.”
Grant’s credits include “The Soloist,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Catch and Release” and “In Her Shoes.”
Millar/Gough Ink previously produced “Hannah Montana: The Movie” for Disney, and the writing duo penned DreamWorks’ “I Am Number Four,” which Disney rolls out this weekend, as well as “Spider-Man 2,” “Shanghai Noon,” and its follow-up, “Shanghai Nights.”
They will next produce the Sylvester Stallone actioner “Headshot,” which Wayne Kramer will direct, and are wrapping up the CW’s “Smallville,” which they created and exec produce.
CAA reps Gough, Millar and Grant, as well as the estate of Lynn Shaw.