EXCLUSIVE: The Scarface team of director Brian De Palma and Al Pacino are re-teaming for Happy Valley, the working title of a film that will tell the story of Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno. Paterno’s legend was undone by revelations he and others in the football program were aware that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was molesting children, and did little to stop it, supposedly fearing bad publicity for the powerhouse gridiron program they presided over. Wall Street producer Edward R. Pressman has optioned the bestselling book Paterno by Joe Posnanski. Dave McKenna (American History X and Blow) is making a deal to write the script. The Edward R. Pressman Film Corporation is backing the project.
Pacino became attached to play Paterno when a package including the book was shopped by ICM last fall. Pressman will produce with Pacino’s manager, Rick Nicita, who was part of that original package. They are keeping a somewhat low profile on the focus of the film for now. “Happy Valley reunites the Scarface and Carlito’s Way team of De Palma & Pacino for the third time and I can’t think of a better duo to tell this story of a complex, intensely righteous man who was brought down by his own tragic flaw,” said Pressman in confirming the deal to Deadline.
Paterno’s fall from grace was Shakespearean and when he died shortly after his firing, many felt it was from a broken heart as much as cancer. He was in the twilight of a coaching career that left him the winningest coach in college football history, an iconic and beloved campus figure. Until his former defensive coordinator Sandusky was revealed to be a prolific pedophile, something that Paterno had been told about. While he informed an administrator, they did not call police, even after a graduate assistant and future assistant coach witnessed Sandusky in an encounter that looked like an act of sodomy with a child in the locker room showers.
An investigation led the university to abruptly fire Paterno, and his cherished football program was crushed. Penn State is reeling after unprecedented sanctions dropped by the NCAA. The university tore down a fabled statue of Paterno, and the NCAA stripped the coach’s wins going back to the coverup. Posthumously, he is no longer the winniningest college coach in history. More importantly, Sandusky was found guilty on 45 counts of sexual abuse against young boys and is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.
There are so many themes to deal with here, from Paterno’s rise and his loyalty to a football program he spent his life building, to the obvious question of how a molder of young men could possibly have stood silently by when told that one of his former coaches started a charity for underprivileged kids and used it as a way to ingratiate himself into vulnerable young fatherless boys for sexual encounters,? The failure of Paterno and university officials to act allowed Sandusky to continue molesting boys for years, which was borne out in court testimony leading to his conviction and incarceration. Posnanski was working on a book about Paterno and was well into it when the scandal broke. The book is as much about what made Paterno tick as anything else, and capturing complex characters is something Pacino does well. He played a conflicted pro football coach in Any Given Sunday, and Jack Kevorkian in the HBO film You Don’t Know Jack.
De Palma most recently directed Passion, the Rachel McAdams/Noomi Rapace-starrer that premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Pressman’s COO Jon Katz will be exec producer and Posnanski co-producer. De Palma is repped by ICM, Pacino by CAA and Nicita, McKenna by Paradigm and Mosaic.