EXCLUSIVE: Florian Gallenberger has been set by The Kennedy/Marshall Company to rewrite and direct Milli Vanilli, a feature film that tells the story of the ’80s pop duo that soared to the top of the charts then fell just as precipitously when they were exposed as lip-synching frauds. Gallenberger is the German-born filmmaker who won the Academy Award for his live action short film Quiero Ser. His feature John Rabe, which was shot in China and starred Steve Buscemi, won four 2009 German Film Awards including Best Picture. This is the first Hollywood film for Gallenberger, who just signed with UTA and continues to be managed by Anonymous Content.
It turns out that Milli Vanilli is a decidedly German story. The duo, Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan, were hired by German record producer Frank Farian to front a group he’d put together locally. Farian had the singers and the songs, but wanted a certain look to put it over the top. He found that when he spotted model/dancer pals Pilatus and Morvan on the dance floor of a club in Munich. They soared to the top of the charts with songs like Blame It On The Rain and Girl You Know It’s True, and looked perfect in the MTV videos. That was until evidence began to mount that they were phonies. It began with a whispering campaign, and then grew after a live appearance when a recording they were “singing” onstage began repeated phrases over and over, and they finally ran off stage. Pilatus and Morvan by then were anxious to stop the charade, but when they refused to promote a followup album unless they were allowed to really sing, Farian instead exposed the charade. By then, they’d sold millions of records and won a Grammy Award. That trophy was rescinded, class action lawsuits were filed, and the act was dropped from the roster of Arista Records. The guys, clearly in over their heads and terrified so long for living a lie, were demoralized and shamed. It wore hardest on Pilatus, who became a drug addict and served time for robbery. He seemed to have cleaned up his act but right before a reunion album with Morvan could be released, he died from a drug overdose.
The project was originally set up at Universal Pictures, and the catalyst was Jeff Nathanson, who explored the conman aspect in Catch Me If You Can and who secured the cooperation of Morvan and the estate of Pilatus, who died in 1998. The project was taken out Universal by Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, who will produce with Nathanson. They are lining up private financing and Gallenberger will start writing immediately.