EXCLUSIVE: After re-starting one Robert Ludlum novel franchise with The Bourne Legacy, Universal Pictures is looking to get in gear with The Sigma Protocol, the last thriller Ludlum wrote before he passed away. The studio has set Irwin Winkler and Jose Ruisanchez to write the script. Winkler will produce with Captivate Entertainment’s Jeffrey Weiner and Ben Smith.
The novel focuses on a man who, while vacationing in Switzerland, runs into an old friend. He watches as the guy turns homicidal and guns down six people. The vacationer then gets plunged into a conspiracy and runs for his life. A female federal agent is following the clues, and might be the ordinary guy’s only hope of survival from a ruthless assassin.
“What we are really hoping to do is create a franchise, built around this ordinary guy who gets caught up in international intrigue, and who teams with this operative who is declared a rogue by the CIA,” said Winkler. “Unlike Bourne, who is a trained assassin, this is an innocent guy traveling in Europe who gets in way over his head. And it has all the great Ludlum intrigue.”
Universal has been trying to make a movie out of Sigma Protocol since 2002. At one time, the studio had Antoine Fuqua attached, and later, Iron Man scribes Art Marcum and Matt Holloway took cracks at the novel. Winkler and his partner have gone back to the book. They got the job after writing a film called Keystroke for CBS Films, CBS, looking for a coproduction partner, gave the script to Universal. While Universal didn’t bite, they liked the script enough to hire Winkler and Ruisanchez to adapt the Ludlum book.
The deal comes at a time when Winkler’s past great films are rearing up. He’s in the middle of all the new incarnations. There is the remake of The Gambler being written by William Monahan for Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio; there is a stage musical adaptation of Rocky, the 1976 film which won Winkler a Best Picture Oscar; and a series version of Goodfellas that will air on AMC, which made a long term licensing deal and plays the movie regularly. Along with the first two installments of The Godfather, AMC replays three movies that leaves men like me powerless to change the channel if we stumble on those films, at any point in the movie.
“Goodfellas has so many incredible individual scenes that you really can pick it up at any point in the film,” Winkler said. “For the series, we went back to the very early years of Henry Hill and his involvement with Pauly and the mob, and found a lot of the original stuff that Nick Pileggi had researched and put in the book. Some of it we used in Goodfellas, but there’s a lot of stuff from that early era of Henry’s life that wasn’t used in the book.
“As for Rocky, I didn’t really see it for the stage, that was Sly Stallone who championed it, and now it’s in a tryout production in Germany. It’s nice to see this activity on past films, and it’s also nice to have some fresh action like Sigma Protocol,” Winkler told me. He’s repped by CAA.