Abacus Media Rights has clinched rapid sales in more than half the world’s major territories on “Killing Escobar,” proving the enduring market appeal of one of Latin America’s most powerful IPs, Pablo Escobar – if producers find a new and unique way into his story.

In the case of “Killing Escobar,” this comes via the extraordinary true account of Scottish mercenary and ex-SAS operative Peter McAleese who was hired by the notorious Cali Cartel to recruit and lead a 12-man team of ex-special forces commandos to assassinate the world’s biggest drug baron, Pablo Escobar.

The hit is planned at the one place Escobar thinks he is safe: his Hacienda Nápoles luxury retreat near Medellín whose attractions included an African wildlife zoo and one of Al Capone’s automobiles.

Narrated by McAleese himself, and driven by cinema-standard reconstruction of the actual nerve-biting mission, “Killing Escobar” mixes a combat survival thriller with McAleese’s highly personal redemption story and a singular vision of Escobar as both a callous murderer, deep-pocketed eccentric and viable military target, McAleese maintains three decades later in an interview for the film.

“Killing Escobar” is directed by award-winning filmmaker David Whitney (“Kandahar Break”) and executive produced by Alan Clements and Mick McAvoy for Two Rivers Media and Nick Taussig for Salon Pictures.

Early sales takes in a wide gamut of public and commercial free-to-air networks, classic pay TV channels and new SVOD services. Among major territories, AMR has closed the U.K. (BritBox and Sundance Now), Canada (Radio Canada), Italy (Discovery), Germany, Austria and Switzerland (RTL Deutschland), Australia (Foxtel) and Latin America, via a deal with DirecTV for its exclusive OnDirecTV channel and DirecTV Go for Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

In Scandinavia, AMR sold “Killing Escobar” rights to national pubcasters NRK (Norway), SVT (Sweden) and DR (Denmark).

Further markets licensed range from Poland (Canal Plus), Israel (Channel 8), Turkey (TV Plus), Portugal (NOS) and the Middle East (OSN) to New Zealand (Rialto Channel), Hong Kong (Now TV)  and Flemish Belgium (VRT). A sale in Africa is now under negotiation, AMR managing director Jonathan Ford told Variety.

“We were sure a new production from Two Rivers and Salon Pictures would be special and this one is truly exceptional,” Ford said. ”Telling the Escobar story from this unique point of view delivers a dynamic and intriguing feature which, as is already proven by these early sales, has strong international appeal across multiple platforms and broadcasters.”

World premiering at this year’s late winter Glasgow Film Festival, “Killing Escobar” was commissioned by BBC Scotland, and received major production investment from AMR and Screen Scotland. Whitney recently scored a best director nomination from BAFTA Scotland.

“You don’t get asked to assassinate Pablo Escobar unless you’ve got the right experience,” McAleese claims in the film.

“Killing Escobar” is particularly moving in its portrait of the world of toxic masculinity in which McAleese grew up: His violent upbringing in Glasgow, where he was beaten by his ex-con father, his training in the SAS – the day he left the British army, he cried, he says – his days as a mercenary in Angola and in jail.

In later life, he has struggled to come to terms with a professional life dedicated in part to killing people, as he himself argues in “Killing Escobar.” “I was a bit nervous the first time I killed anybody,” he remembers. “But the actual act of killing someone when you’re on mission is partly why you’ve chosen to do [this] with your life,” he adds, with bracing candor.

The film also features interviews with fellow mercenary and arms supplier Dave Tomkins and DEA officers Javier Peña and Steve Murphy, whose experiences were dramatized in “Narcos,” as well as McAleese’s Cali Cartel liaison Jorge Salcedo, another inspiration for the Netflix series.

“The extraordinary international success of ‘Killing Escobar’ is proof that factual documentaries that combine dramatic storytelling with unique and compelling characters will always have global appeal,” Mick McAvoy, at Two Rivers Media, stated. He added: “Two Rivers Media are extremely proud of the film and are building on its success by producing more landmark documentaries that put story and character at their heart.”

“Abacus Media Rights got firmly behind the film from the very beginning, immediately seeing its clear international potential, and David Whitney, with his strong background in war drama, delivered a gripping docu-thriller with compelling first-person testimony and really well-executed reenactment,” said Nick Taussig, at Salon Pictures.

Variety talked to AMR’s Ford as the company unveiled first sales on “Killing Escobar”:

How exceptional are these first sales in volume and rapidity?

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Jonathan Ford Courtesy of The Lippin Group

The film has sold widely around the world as we expected, and at a really good pace, proving that new access and perspectives on well-known real-life characters continue to interest the viewer.

The film’s documentation talks about never-before-seen footage. What footage was that? 

There are a number of conversations with Peter talking for the first time about the plans to assassinate Pablo Escobar, although he and Dave Tomkins were the only people aware of who the target was for the vast majority of the time they were in Colombia.  There’s also a lot of archive footage from Tomkins showing the build-up and hard training the team of ex-special forces commandos had to endure for the expedition.

The film works on multiple levels. Do you think that helps to explain the volume and breadth of sales?

Yes – what we have created is a documentary that plays out like a thriller.

Your line-up has a large focus on doc features and series, often from prestigious production companies – Two Rivers Media and Salon are examples – or directors like Nick Broomfield (“Last Man Standing: Suge Knight And The Murders Of Biggie & Tupac”). How would you like Abacus Media Rights lineup to develop in the next few years?

We are also investing in drama and comedy alongside high-end documentary and documentary series, as well as specialist factual and factual entertainment shows, and will continue to operate all these strands.