EXCLUSIVE: A promising package for a feature film on guitar god Jimi Hendrix looks dead — confirmed as recently as of today. Even though it had financing from Legendary Pictures, and a directing commitment from Oscar-nominated Paul Greengrass, and The Hurt Locker’s Anthony Mackie poised to star. The pic wen belly up earlier this year because Experience Hendrix, gatekeeper for the dead musician’s music rights, refused to authorize the film out of fear it could hurt the music catalog.
Legendary Pictures and its chief Thomas Tull certainly aren’t the first to be interested in filming the story of Hendrix, who died in 1970 at age 27 and recorded just four albums. But is still considered the greatest rocker to ever plug in an electric guitar. Among the actors who reportedly wanted to play Hendrix at one time or another are Outkast’s Andre 3000, Eddie Murphy, and Will Smith. But each approach was rejected by the Hendrix estate, which is currently controlled by Janie Hendrix, the adopted daughter of Hendrix’s late father. Tull went ahead anyway in 2009 and paid Max Borenstein to write a script. There was reason to be optimistic: aside from co-financing films like Batman and Watchmen, Tull had the street cred of having financed the documentary It Might Get Loud, with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge, and Jack White. Tull and producer Bill Gerber figured they’d bring a package to the Hendrix estate. The script landed The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93 helmer Greengrass, and they approached Mackie to play Hendrix.
Unfortunately, the estate rejected the package earlier this year. A statement from Experience Hendrix president/CEO Janie Hendrix to me today is as follows: “Legendary proceeded without our permission, direction or involvement. It didn’t ‘fall apart,’ it never was. When we do the Jimi Hendrix feature film bio, we will be involved and in control from the beginning.” But producer Bill Gerber counters: “To say we proceeded without permission isn’t fair. Thomas Tull couldn’t have been more generous and eager to collaborate with the estate. He was ready go finance their version of Jimi’s story, he got a script that made The Black List and brought Paul Greengrass to the party. It boggles the mind.”
Legendary Pictures wouldn’t comment, but I’ve heard the filmmakers were told that the estate feared the movie could potentially hurt sales of the Hendrix backlist, which is what supposedly happened after Oliver Stone’s movie The Doors. (A spokesman for the estate denies this was the reason they rejected the film). The Hendrix movie could have been made anyway; while the estate controls such seminal Hendrix tunes as Purple Haze, Foxy Lady, and Voodoo Child, it doesn’t control songs written by others which Hendrix performed. That includes The Star Spangled Banner (which Hendrix played so memorably at Woodstock – see video); Wild Thing (Jimi set his guitar aflame when he sang the tune in the 1967 docu Monterey Pop), Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and All Along the Watchtower. But Tull refused to move forward without the estate’s cooperation. His primary motivation was and is to make a studio-caliber movie about his rock hero. Unless Experience Hendrix has a change of heart, the movie has gone up in flames, just like so many of Hendrix’s Stratocaster guitars.
I write often about Hollywood development deals involving projects with tantalizing elements. Though I know many of them will fall by the wayside, I spark to the potential. That drives some Deadline readers up the wall, particularly those who’ve had projects crater. Well, for those of you waiting to read a story about how a worthy project probably won’t get made despite having everything going for it, this one’s for you! Happy Holidays!