EXCLUSIVE: DreamWorks has officially entered the derby to turn the story of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks into a feature film. The studio has acquired rights to two books by pivotal players in the WikiLeaks drama. DreamWorks has secured screen rights to Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website, the Crown book by Daniel Domscheit-Berg. He’s the former top WikiLeaks former executive who defected because he wanted WikiLeaks to exercise journalistic discretion instead of the document dump that took place. ICM brokered that deal. DreamWorks has also bought WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, written by David Leigh and Luke Harding, the two journalists from the UK-based The Guardian who worked with Assange on bringing his first revelations into play through their paper, as well as Der Spiegel and The New York Times. That book was published by Guardian Books. They detail their dealings with Assange, who at one point hid from the CIA in Leigh’s London house. The book covers the WikiLeaks phenomenon from its 2006 launch onward.
I’m told that DreamWorks executives from Stacey Snider, Steve Spielberg to co-presidents Holly Bario and Mark Sourian, are intrigued enough by the Assange story to cobble together rights that will allow them to attack the story creatively from any of several angles. They are content to gather string, but haven’t hired a writer yet. A good template for what they are thinking is The Social Network, where Oscar-winning scribe Aaron Sorkin not only used the Ben Mezrich book The Accidental Billionaires as a resource, but gathered actual testimony from the lawsuits filed against Mark Zuckerberg that detailed the formation of Facebook and provided high drama. That allowed the film to be made without a rights deal from Zuckerberg. Producer Scott Rudin told Deadline that was the best thing that could have happened to the film, because some of the things Facebook wanted–they asked that the movie not be set at Harvard and the word Facebook not be used–would have violated the integrity of the Oscar-nominated film. Zuckerberg embraced the film to a degree after it ramped up his own celebrity. He even appeared on Saturday Night Live during the hosting stint of Jesse Eisenberg, who played Zuckerberg in the movie. The major difference between the project is that The Social Network focused on a period in history, and the Assange WikiLeaks story is still playing out. Nobody knows whether if this story is in its second or third act, or what the ending is. But there is still a stampede because the impact of WikiLeaks is the stuff of All the President’s Men, or Daniel Ellsberg’s leakage of The Pentagon Papers to The New York Times.
Deadline has told you of the multitude of deals made for movies about Assange, who was recently ordered by a British judge to be extradited back to Sweden to face accusations of sexual abuse. Assange was paid $1.5 million to write his own memoirs, which will be handled for the screen by CAA and lit agency Peters Fraser & Dunlop. No sign of who will buy that project–Assange has been preoccupied by the legal issues that it is unclear when the book will be generated, or whether Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass would become involved, a distinct possibility last year, before Greengrass decided to direct the Martin Luther King assassination movie Memphis, and Universal committed to finance a mid-year production start. But there are numerous other projects percolating.
The Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal and Management 360 have partnered with financier/producer Megan Ellison and her Annapurna Pictures to option The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, a feature article about Assange in The New York Times Magazine written by the newspaper’s executive editor Bill Keller. Boal might script that project, which tackles the story from The Times’ role in dispersing the WikiLeaks documents, and the change in Assange as he became critical of what The Times was writing about him and his sources.
Universal Pictures will finance and distribute an Alex Gibney-directed documentary on Assange and WikiLeaks that will be produced by Gibney and former Universal Pictures chairman Marc Shmuger, and HBO is in talks with BBC to collaborate on a pic that would be based partly on Raffi Khatchadourian’s New Yorker article No Secrets: Julian Assange’s Mission for Total Transparency. Another documentary, WikiLeaks: War, Lies and Videotape has been picked up to be distributed by Zodiak.