EXCLUSIVE: After the West Memphis 3 murder defendants were released from prison today after 18 years, it seemed like just a matter of time before the movie crowd got involved because the case is so controversial and became a cause celebre with the likes of Johnny Depp and Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. Turns out that there is a feature film that already has a screenplay and a major director, ready to start production by the spring. Devil’s Knot is an under $20 million feature that has The Sweet Hereafter and Chloe director Atom Egoyan aboard to direct a script that was originally written by Scott Derrickson and Paul Boardman, the team behind The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Egoyan has spent the last six weeks working with Boardman on a rewrite.
The script is based on investigative reporter Mara Leveritt’s 2003 book Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, an in-depth chronicle of the sensationalized trials that sent the three to prison for the murder of the three 8-year old boys who were found hog-tied in a drainage ditch. The project is not a rush job. Derrickson and Boardman began writing it in 2006 when the film first took root at Dimension Films. It will be produced by Elizabeth Fowler, Clark Peterson, Richard Saperstein and Boardman. Saperstein was Dimension president and he acquired the film. After he left, Dimension eventually put the project into turnaround and Saperstein became re-involved as producer. The package includes life rights deals with some of the figures in the case, and especially Ron Lax, a private investigator who has been working pro bono on trying to overturn the verdict since 1993. There are no rights deals with the West Memphis 3 defendants Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., because at the time, two were serving life sentences and Echols was on death row. The plan is to finance the film independently, but the filmmakers might well make a domestic distribution deal before getting underway. Egoyan’s repped by WME.