The true story of how the Iraq War vet and onetime U.S. intelligence specialist used his drone skills to fight terrorists contains never-before-revealed details about ISIS’s rise to power, and could be one of the first major projects to accurately portray the group onscreen.
Paramount optioned Velicovich’s life rights and upcoming memoir (co-written with Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter Christopher S. Stewart) for Bay Films to develop. The studio’s six-figure preemptive deal came amidst heavy interest from Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions, and Brett Ratner and James Packer’s RatPac Entertainment, who were circling the project.
It offers a suspenseful account of Velicovich’s special ops drone strikes, which targeted some of the world’s most wanted terrorists. After chronicling his wartime service in Iraq and Afghanistan, the story will take readers and moviegoers through his adventures in Somalia and Kenya where, as a civilian, he adapted his drone expertise to capture poachers of African rhinos and other endangered animals.
His memoir was recently approved by the CIA and several other government agencies after a lengthy security review, clearing the way for Bay Films to develop the feature. The book is now expected to be published later this year or next year.
After completing his military service in 2010, Velicovich, who is repped by WME, earned an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and helped launch an initiative that uses drones to support wildlife conservation overseas. During his years of counter-terrorism work, he has studied the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations, with a particular focus on groups like ISIS and Al-Shabaab.
In July 2014, Paramount extended its first-look deal with Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes and expanded it to cover his Bay Films shingle. The Velicovich biopic would fall in line with the first Paramount/Bay Films feature under the pact, “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” (released in January), as well as Bay’s warrior-themed blockbusters “Pearl Harbor,” “Armageddon” and the “Transformers” films.
The project also mirrors a groundswell of interest in real-life war stories (including the $547.4 million-grossing biopic “American Sniper”) and drone warfare. Anne Hathaway will star in and produce a film version of George Brant’s play “Grounded,” recreating her role as a conflicted Air Force pilot assigned to operate an unmanned drone. The news comes on the heels of this spring’s indie hit “Eye in the Sky” and FilmRise’s recent North American pickup of Sonia Kennebeck’s drone warfare doc “National Bird.”
Other upcoming features adapted from real-life war stories include Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” the Liam Neeson-toplined “Operation Chromite,” the Kate Mara-led “Leavey” and “Thank You for Your Service,” helmed by “Sniper” scribe Jason Hall.