Biographical films about music icons often go through lengthy development periods. Changes in directors, writers and stars are common – witness projects involving the careers of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Miles Davis, Brian Wilson and the Mamas & the Papas that have kicked around for decades.
As a companion to Billboard’s “Rights, Camera Action” package, which takes a look at the complex process of getting a music biopic made and appears in the June 4, 2011 edition – head here to order a copy — here is a look at 24 projects in various stages of development, along with the one (“Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life”) that actually has a solid release date.
The latest: A film about the Godfather of Soul was in the works before his death in 2006 with a script that had already been rewritten once. Spike Lee boarded the project within days of Brown’s death and Wesley Snipes was fitted for the cape, vest, and conked hair. Two years ago, Lee said Snipes would sing as well. The film has moved to a back burner at Paramount – perhaps because Snipes is serving time on income tax evasion? Prognosis: Another “Ray”-a film with a long road ahead.
The latest: Jake Scott (“Welcome to the Rileys”) will direct the untitled biopic, penned by Ryan Jaffe, about the rising star, son of late folk icon Tim Buckley, who drowned in 1997 at age 30. Michelle Sy (“Finding Neverland”) and Orian Williams (“Control”) are producing; Buckley’s mother Mary Guibert is the executive producer. Principal photography is scheduled for the fall and “Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson has been considered for the lead. Prognosis: Likely to be made; distribution will be another story.
The latest: Producer Jody Klein, whose company ABKCO owns the soul singer’s recordings and publishing, commissioned the team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (“Across the Universe,” “The Commitments”) to pen a script. Klein has been taking the finished script to directors for a few months. ABKCO intends to finance the film. Prognosis: A go project that, with the right star-there have been rumblings about Anthony Mackie, and Ray Lavender announced a few weeks ago on his Twitter feed that he got the part, but there’s no confirmation-could be an Oscar contender.
Sammy Davis Jr.
The latest: At one point in 2007 there were three competing biopics, one of which was scheduled to star OutKast’s Andre 3000, but lawsuits stalled them all. In February of this year, Tracey Davis, who oversees her father’s estate, struck a deal with film producer Rick Appling to produce a feature film and a series of documentaries. Prognosis: Limited interest will keep this moving slowly.
The latest: Executive producer and writer Vivek Tiwary says he has the $25 million needed to make this film about the Beatles’ late manager as well as the rights to 6-10 Beatles songs. He has listed “All You Need Is Love,” “A Day in the Life” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” as already cleared. The script covers Epstein’s life from 1961 through 1967, the year of his death. Prognosis: Beatles music in a movie means Paul, Ringo and the estates have approved it. If true, there should be no problem getting this made.
The latest: Franklin told USA Today she has secured “financial and creative control” but to date has not provided details. She has gone on talk shows (“The View,” “Wendy Williams,” “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon”) and expressed an interest in having Halle Berry (who passed on the project in January, saying she can’t sing) and Patina Miller from the Broadway musical “Sister Act” to play the young Queen of Soul. Prognosis: As a TV movie it’s likely, but creative-control issues lurk.
The latest: After decades of stops and starts with different stars and directors, Screen Daily reported in February that British documentary filmmaker Julien Temple (“Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten,” Sex Pistols doc “The Filth and the Fury”) would tackle the story of Gaye recording his final album, “Midnight Love,” in Brussels, as well as his friendship with the Belgian promoter Freddy Cousaert. Prognosis: As proposed, this is not the biopic fans want to see. It would have to play extremely well at film festivals to get distribution.
The latest: Released in the U.K. last summer, “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life” will hit U.S. screens on Aug. 31. Eric Elmosnino stars; Joann Sfar directed and wrote the script. It is the only biopic on a release schedule this year. Prognosis: A box-office gross of $5 million would be astounding.
The latest: The film, directed by Euzhan Palcy and currently being shot in Chicago and Pittsburgh, stars Fantasia Barrino as the gospel great. Jim Evering based his script on the 1993 book “Got to Tell It: Mahalia Jackson, Queen of Gospel.” No distribution company is attached. Prognosis: Realistically, this could end up on pay cable unless Barrino delivers an earth-moving performance.
The latest: The late CBGB founder’s story is being produced by his daughter Lisa Kristal Burgman, Brad Rosenberger, Randall Miller and Jody Savin. (Miller and Savin are working on the script.) The story will focus on the birth of punk rock in New York City, 1974 through 1976, with bands such as Television, the Ramones and Talking Heads. If the stars align, “CBGB” could go into production this fall. Prognosis: Romanticism over the time and place (particularly in light of Patti Smith’s recent National Book Award-winning memoir “Just Kids”) should spark interest. The soundtrack could make all the difference.
The latest: Lee Hall, Elton John’s collaborator on the musicals “Billy Elliot” and “Animal Farm,” told the BBC in January he is also penning on a John biopic. Prognosis: Hall and John are too busy to focus on this. It is years away.
The latest: Reese Witherspoon announced in August that she has secured Peggy Lee’s life rights and music rights, and had tapped Nora Ephron would write and direct. Witherspoon would produce and, if her schedule allowed, star as the 1950s songstress. Witherspoon has since taken on two other acting-producing jobs. Prognosis: Witherspoon’s announcement came out of the blue and was immediately greeted with skepticism – when would she have time to do this? There have been no follow-up reports since the initial announcement.
The latest: Director Jenny Ash is developing a film based on Marley’s year in London, 1977, theoretically circumventing the need for Marley recordings. Greenacre Films is producing. Prognosis: The Marley estate has declined to give its blessing, making this a very, very tough sell to a distributor. If it gets made without music, it will be a tough sell to a large audience.
The latest: Deadline.com reported in February that German director Florian Gallenberger will rewrite a script that had been in Universal’s hands for a few years. He is also slated to direct for the Kennedy/Marshall Co. and producer Jeff Nathanson. Prognosis: A good story that will eventually be made, but is there more than a niche audience?
The latest: Ice Cube has mentioned on talk shows such as “Lopez Tonight” that he is “working with two writers” to document the story of his rap band. Prognosis: Will the six rappers and Eazy-E’s estate agree on the story, or will it be reduced to E, Dr. Dre and Cube?
The latest: “I Am Who I Am: The Teddy Pendergrass Story” will feature Tyrese as the Philadelphia soul icon. Joan Pendergrass, the late singer’s wife, is producing; the film is tentatively slated to begin shooting this year in Philadelphia and Toronto. Prognosis: It seems likely, and Sony Music has been aggressive in licensing the library of frequent Pendergrass collaborators Gamble & Huff.
The latest: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was attached to the story of the country singer in April. Terrence Howard was attached to the project when it was announced in 2006. Prognosis: Since it has disappeared once, this project is surrounded with doubt.
The latest: Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon created Queen Films to participate in the movie with GK Films partners Graham King and Tim Headington. Sacha Baron Cohen stars as Freddie Mercury in script from Peter Morgan that is being worked on. The band’s involvement, combined with an emphasis on their less-prolific ’80s era, will ease access to recordings. Prognosis: As real a movie as there is. Hollywood Records presumably has a marketing plan in place around its reissue of the group’s catalog this year.
The latest: Steve Basilon and Annie Mebane have scripted the story of a jazz pianist afflicted with a stuttering problem becomes a sensation in Europe when, at the age of 52, he has a No. 1 hit with a scat-rap tune. Producer Judy McHugh Larkin, with the assistance of EMI Music Publishing, is shopping the script to producers. Prognosis: Definitely a film for cable, but financial interest will have to come from Europe.
The latest: Coinciding with this spring’s Off-Broadway arrival of a musical based on the Wiggins sisters of New Hampshire, whose manager/father had them form a rock band in the 1960s, Katherine Dieckmann’s Shaggs project got a boost with the attachment of Elle Fanning and Dakota Fanning. The project is more than a decade old: Dieckmann started working on it in 2000 for Artisan Entertainment. Prognosis: The musical will need to transfer to Broadway to spark enough interest in these no-hit wonders and their 1969 album, “Philosophy of the World.”
The latest: Casting sessions to find an unknown to play the slain rapper apparently proved fruitless: Soulja Boy told MTV in May he had been approached to audition for the role. Antoine Fuqua will direct a script from Steven Bagatourian, Stephen J. Rivele, and Christopher Wilkinson. Morgan Creek is producing with LT Hutton, David C. Robinson and 2Pac’s mother, Afeni Shakur-Davis, as executive producers; combination of Universal distributing and Shakur-Davis’ participation should spark new interest in his Interscope releases. Prognosis: Very close to definite, but the budget will likely hinge on whether 2Pac is portrayed by a star or an unknown.
The latest: The team is coming together-Martin Scorsese to direct, Mandalay Bay with Scott Rudin to produce for Universal and Scorsese’s Sikelia. It’s four years away, though, as 2015 is Sinatra’s centennial. The Sinatra family, which controls the music and his image, has all rights under a single roof. Prognosis: The start is easily three years away, plenty of time for other projects to arise. Everyone will want this to be perfect.
The latest: Nick Hurran, a TV director in the U.K., will direct Ray Connelly’s script based on Sharon Davis’s book, “A Girl Called Dusty” and the recollections of Springfield’s caretaker and backup singer, Simon Bell. Dominick Fairbanks’ Fairbanks Productions is producing “The Invention of Dusty Springfield” with Arclight Films in Los Angeles. Fairbanks has said he is working with Universal Music to secure her recordings for the film, budgeted at $30 million. Prognosis: A legend in the U.K., name recognition could be an issue in the U.S. Production appears to have the right elements in place to proceed.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
The latest: The film adaptation of the bio-musical “Jersey Boys” is being written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who did the Broadway show. GK Films has a fall 2013 release penciled in. Prognosis: A go picture, producer Graham King is bullish on this project.
The latest: Carl B. Wilson, Jennifer Wilson, Brad Rosenberger, Randall Miller and Jody Savin are producing “The Drummer,” a film about the Beach Boys drummer’s life, beginning in 1974 when he leaves the band to go solo. Miller will direct Savin’s script with shooting expected to begin in August or September. The film is being cast now and locations in Georgia, Louisiana and Florida are being scouted. Music will be from Wilson’s 1977 solo album “Pacific Ocean Blue” and unreleased songs. Prognosis: A pet project six years in the making, if it tells a universal redemptive story and has a charismatic lead, it could outperform all expectations.
Head here to order your copy of the June 4, 2011 edition of Billboard, containing the “Rights, Camera Action” package — which takes a look at the complex process of getting a music biopic made – an extensive report on the 2011 Billboard Music Awards, Lady Gaga’s 99-cent Amazon album sale and much more.