A documentary filmmaker is riding with the King. John Scheinfeld, who has chronicled the lives of John Lennon, Harry Nilsson and others in documentaries, will direct the first-ever feature film based on the life of Elvis Presley.
RLF Victor Productions has brought in Scheinfeld to direct and re-write the script for "Fame & Fortune," an adaptation of the 2007 book "Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business" penned by the King's bodyguard and friend Sonny West. The Gersh Agency is packaging the film and will begin casting in the late fall.
A theatrical release is planned in 2012 to coincide with the 35th anniversary of Presley's death on Aug. 16, 1977. RLF Victor Productions president Cindy Friedlander wrote the script with Michael Schlau and West that Scheinfeld will rewrite. Todd Slater is executive producer.
"At the heart, this is the story of an intimate friendship," Scheinfeld tells Billboard, drawing a parallel to "The King's Speech." "When the story starts, Elvis is on top of the world and Sonny is a poor kid from Memphis. It's a little brother-big brother relationship. The more time they spend together -- and the more Elvis sees he can trust Sonny - the more they become equals until there is a transition where Sonny becomes the big brother."
West and Presley met in 1958, a scene that Scheinfeld says will be in the film, and went to work for the King in 1960. They were together until 1976 when Presley fired West, a member of the so-called Memphis Mafia that included his cousin Red West.
As a title character, Presley has been portrayed in TV movies by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (2005), Rob Youngblood (1993), Dale Midkiff (1988) and Kurt Russell (1979). But a film on Presley has never made it to the big screen.
Elvis Presley Enterprises has no involvement in the film at this time and currently there are no songs cleared for use in the film. Scheinfeld would like for the film to have a number of his hits, and has his eye on Presley's performance of "If I Can Dream" from the 1968 comeback special as a key component of the story.
"Once they see the script, they will see that we are celebrating Elvis as an artist," says Sheinfeld, who co-directed, produced and wrote "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" with David Leaf and directed and wrote "Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?"
"The underlying sentiment is that he is one of the most important figures in music in the 20h century and it's important to take him out of the tabloid world and replace the caricature with a fully realized human being."