EXCLUSIVE: As The New Republic turns 100 years old, Sony Pictures and Escape Artists have made a pre-emptive acquisition of “The Year Of The Pigskin,” a just-published feature by Christopher Beam about the unlikely success of the Chongqing Dockers, one of the first teams in the very first American football league to form in China. The catalyst was a 26-year-old American, the son of police detectives whose pro football dreams were dashed after a shoulder injury incurred while he was a star player at the University of Michigan. He became the team’s coach and star player. The feature is a template for a Bad News Bears-like film that will be shot in China, as the Dockers and its players with names like Fat Baby, Bobo, and Weezy get molded from undisciplined players afraid to hit one another into a group of warriors that battled for the championship against archrival Shanghai Warriors.
The film will be a co-production between Escape Artists and Bungalow Media + Entertainment, and Todd Hoffman will produce with Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch. Bungalow’s Robert Friedman will be exec producer along with David Bloomfield.
The charm of the article, which was purchased by Sony production president Michael De Luca, is how the infiltration of America’s most popular sport into China mirrors the cultural collision that is taking place there. The author notes, for instance, that the Liberation Monument, a revered statue commemorating the 1949 victory by the Communists, is now surrounded on all sides by Cartier, Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton, Starbucks, and KFC. The residents are growing more and more affluent and entrepreneurial and tend to see the world through the American music (especially hip-hop) they listen to and the movies they watch (Rudy and The Waterboy are touchstones among gridiron films). Sony has locked down rights to the article, as well as the players and Christopher McLaurin, the coach who, after getting his master’s degree at the London School of Economics, came to Chongqing on a Luce Fellowship. It is an opportunity to tell a universal story but film it in China, which is a Hollywood priority.
The deal comes after The New Republic and its new owner and editor-in-chief Chris Hughes (a Facebook co-founder) signed for representation with Storied Media Group, which is a division of Bungalow Media + Entertainment, the new company run by Robert Friedman. Todd Hoffman, the longtime former ICM agent who has set up swarms of movies and TV based on published properties, and is now a partner in Bungalow and adds The New Republic to clients that include The New York Times, 60 Minutes, New York Magazine, and McClatchy newspapers. TNR’s Hughes is embellishing the magazine’s Beltway coverage with cultural pieces. ICM will serve as their packaging agency on unscripted projects.