EXCLUSIVE: Ted Melfi, currently directing a cast of Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and Chris O’Dowd in his directorial debut St. Vincent De Van Nuys for The Weinstein Company, is moving closer to his next picture. I’m told that Sony Pictures and Chernin Entertainment are nearing a rights deal for the J.R. Moehringer memoir The Tender Bar, with Melfi to write the script and direct. Chernin Entertainment’s Peter Chernin and Jenno Topping will produce. Mark Bauch will be exec producer. Chernin Entertainment is producing St. Vincent De Van Nuys.
The bestselling memoir was published in 2005 and told the story of how as a youth, the author grew up without a father but surrounded him with unlikely surrogates: the patrons who haunted a pub in Manhasset, Long Island where his uncle tended bar. Moehringer broke into journalism as a copyboy at The New York Times and won a Pulitzer for feature writing at the L.A. Times.
The movie Melfi’s currently shooting melded personal episodes in Melfi’s life. Part of it came after Melfi’s brother died tragically five years ago at age 38, and Melfi and his wife adopted his 11-year old daughter. Told to write about someone in her life reminiscent of a saint, she chose Melfi and St. Will of Rochester, the patron saint of adopted children. Later, Melfi’s wife (actress Kimberly Quinn) went to a personal healing seminar, and part of the course forced her to square the ledger with people in her life. That prompted her to reach out to her father, with whom she had not spoken since she was nine. They reconnected and spent a decade growing close before he died. Melfi melded this together, with this unifying theme: “It’s about understanding our value as human beings and saying I love you, now, instead of waiting until someone is dying.” When he completed the script about a cantankerous neighbor who takes a 12-year old neighbor under his wing, Melfi at first approached Jack Nicholson. When the actor made it clear he didn’t want to make another movie, he suggested Melfi send the script to Bill Murray.
Here’s what I wrote last November about Melfi’s fascinating attempt to land Murray to anchor his passion project, knowing full well that it’s hard to get the actor to even read a script, much less commit (I don’t think he still has read Sony’s script for a Ghostbusters sequel).
“It’s not an urban legend, he’s very private,” Melfi told me then. “He’s not attached to Hollywood, and I mean that in the best possible way. He doesn’t want to deal with the bullshit, and has put himself in a position where he doesn’t have to.” Eventually, calls to Murray’s attorney led to an invitation to send a one-page description to Murray. That got him to the lightning round, as Murray agreed to read the script. Said Melfi: “I’m driving one day, the phone rings and it’s Bill Murray, and he says, ‘Ted Melfi, I don’t know who you are, but I love your script.’ He asked me to meet him at LAX and go for a ride as he returned home from a golf tournament. I met him in baggage, we got in a town car. He pulls the script out of an attache case. It’s dog-eared and there are notes all over it. We stop at an In-N-Out Burger, and spent a three hour drive to I don’t know where discussing the script. He understood everything about the character, and his notes were simple, direct and to the point. He said, this character is who I am at times, and this is how I talk, at times. It was one of those days where you think, if I died tomorrow, it would be okay.”
Melfi is repped by UTA, Infinity Management and attorneys Bruce Ramer and Kevin Marks.