#screenwriting #film #documentary
“In Hollywood, are documentaries the new books?
It certainly seems to be the case, given the activity of the past few months. While West Coast studios have had a long tradition of acquiring the rights to remake books as blockbusters, documentaries have recently come to the fore as the new hot choice for real life-inspired screenplays.
At Sundance in January, the two big stories emerging from the Utah festival both concerned doc remakes.
First came the announcement that U.S. pay-TV net HBO and Scott Rudin Productions had acquired the rights to remake Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky’s Indie Game: The Movie, a crowdfunded doc about video game developers, as a fictional TV drama – the second successive year the net has acquired fiction rights for a doc, after optioning Ian Palmer’s Knuckle in 2011.
Then came the news that 1492 Pictures, the prodco behind box office hits such as The Help and three films in the Harry Potter series, would be teaming up with ro*co productions for a pipeline partnership that would see documentaries adapted into features, starting with Yoav Potash’s Crime After Crime.
A few weeks after the festival, remakes hit the headlines once again, when The Weinstein Company announced that musician Sean “Diddy” Combs had signed on as an exec producer for Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s Undefeated, which looks at underprivileged student athletes from an inner-city Memphis school, and the volunteer coach who steers them through a football season.
As part of the deal, Combs will work on a scripted remake of the doc, which has gained a huge publicity boost after its recent Academy Award win for best documentary feature.
Finally, director Katie Dellamaggiore unveiled details in March of a deal for her doc Brooklyn Castle (pictured, top) at SXSW in Austin, Texas, with Sony Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions signing on to buy up the film’s remake rights.
Of course, documentary remakes have occasionally happened in the past – Werner Herzog remade his 1997 doc Little Dieter Needs to Fly as the 2007 movie Rescue Dawn, while actor Drew Barrymore won a Golden Globe for her role in HBO’s 2009 remake of David and Albert Maysles’ 1975 classic Grey Gardens.
But the recent and sudden charge to buy up doc rights is remarkable. And while non-fiction makers are themselves not above turning to other mediums for adaptations, what is it that’s driving this West Coast gold rush?
“There’s nothing like a true story,” offers 1492 Pictures president Michael Barnathan (pictured below). “There are so many interesting documentaries that get made and either don’t get seen or don’t get into the right hands in terms of movie people. And something like Undefeated or Crime After Crime is fantastic because it’s got a whole arc to the story, which makes everybody’s life easier. You have a surer sense of what it is than if it were just a kernel of an idea.
“The other nice thing is that often years of research go into these,” he adds. “Working with a documentarian, as we are with Yoav, if they’ve been getting inside the story, living with it for six years or so and looking for those dramatic turns, then they know it very……………”