The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Sony takes aim on piracy -- the Somali kind

May 28, 2009 |  4:35 pm

Sony just announced that it's acquired the rights to the story of Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama freighter that was captured by Somali pirates, prompting a tense showdown that resulted in Phillips rescue by Navy SEALs on the high seas. The studio also purchased the film rights to Phillips' upcoming memoirs. The interesting angle, for those of us who follow the inside workings of Hollywood, is the lineup of producers attached to the project. It's quite a murderer's row of talent, notably Scott Rudin, Michael DeLuca and Kevin Spacey, along with his producing partner Dana Brunetti.

Richardphillips How did that formidable team manage to converge? Mark Roybal, who heads Rudin's production company, had approached Sony about doing a movie about Phillips while events were still unfolding. Meanwhile, Spacey and Brunetti, who had shared producer chores on the film "21" with DeLuca, made contact with Phillips' family shortly after he was rescued. "Kevin went to Vermont to meet Phillips and his family, who agreed to work with us on a film project," DeLuca told me today. "We developed a take on the framework of the picture, went to Sony and they put in an offer to lock up the material."

Since Rudin had already approached the studio as well, the Spacey-Brunetti-DeLuca group agreed to link up with Rudin. As it turns out, the producers were already in business together, having teamed up to make a film at Sony about the creation of Facebook, with a script written by Aaron Sorkin. "We've had such a good time working together on the Facebook project that it was an easy call to team up again," DeLuca says. "No one has access to top of the line A-list talent the way Scott does, so his involvement will really be a big benefit for the project."

DeLuca says the project is still in its infancy, so no writing talent has even been approached yet. But everyone believes the concept has resonance with a moviegoing public hungry for heroes. "There were three elements to the story that felt really gripping," DeLuca  says. "You have what the captain was going through, how the family was handling events back home and the little-understood story of what was driving the Somali pirates. And of course the amazing heroism of the Navy SEALs, waiting for hours, bobbing up and down on a raft, to take out the pirates with head shots, all at exactly the same time. When you have someone who survives a drama like that, I know that it certainly filled me with a lot of respect and relief. It's a story that could be very moving."  

Photo of Richard Phillips from the Phillips family / Reuters