EXCLUSIVE: Writer-producer Rob Weiss (Entourage) is taking over Fox 2000‘s Hells Angels feature about legendary member Sonny Barger, who has long been considered the undisputed godfather of the motorcycle club. Barger helped found the Oakland chapter in 1957 when he was only 18 and became instrumental in its rise as an international organization. Weiss will co-write with Jeff Santos and direct the story of Barger’s life, which has been a controversial one so he has a lot of material to draw on … 60 years’ worth. Weiss said he is looking to tell the story about the beginnings of Hells Angels.
“We’re approaching this as a genesis story of the motorcycle club culture,” Weiss said. “I’ve wanted to do something in the biker space for a long time.” He said they are going to focus on Barger’s entry into Hells Angels from the late 1950s and follow his story into the 1970s. He calls it “a period piece that explores the early days of the club, the philosophy of the formidable, most loyal brotherhood that started it and what drove Sonny, who had the leadership and the vision to expand the club. And he did so amid almost unsurmountable obstacles like rival clubs and law enforcement.” Weiss is drawing on the books Barger wrote himself as well as input from the Hells Angels legend. “His life is a metaphor for the wild ride that is set against a very shifting America,” Weiss said.
Of course, the project will include the 1969 Altamont concert in Northern California where the Hells Angels provided a barrier to make sure that the crowd didn’t come onto the stage when the Rolling Stones played. As the story goes, their “payment” was in beer. The Angels got into brawls with the fans and a pregnant woman ended up with a skull fracture and another young man was stabbed to death. It was total chaos. After that, the Hells Angels were persona non grata, and public opinion about the club changed for the worse.
The Hells Angels project previously had been with director Tony Scott, who tragically took his own life two years ago by jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro. They plan to keep Scott’s name on as producer. (In true Hells Angels form, once in their “family,” you’re in.) Scott had been developing the film with writer Scott Frank as a Donnie Brasco-type story about cop who attempts to infiltrate the club to investigate alleged criminal activities. The studio bought the rights to Barger’s memoirs more than 10 years ago. Weiss, obviously, is not going that direction at all. The newly imagined project also will be produced by Ben Myron and Fritz Clapp, who reps Barger. WME and Leverage Management reps Weiss, who is currently writing and exec producing Ballers at HBO.
This is not the first time, Barger’s life would be made into a film. Last year, the indie Dead In Five Heartbeats was made by Barger and Santos Films based on the book of the same name he wrote with Keith and Kent Zimmerman. The film hilariously advertised itself as being rejected by the Sundance Film Festival and every other film festival it submitted to.
The Hells Angels motorcycle club became a symbol in America, a feared gang that also made an great impact on this country. “They were incredibly influential and powerful,” said Weiss. “They were a huge part of the 1960s California counterculture. From what they wore to the way they chopped their bikes, which changed the design of motorcycles forever as Harley-Davidson would later adopt their styles.”
They were, indeed, renegades who mixed very well with the 1960s culture, but the symbol of the Hells Angels meant very different things to different people. The Angels began in 1948 and grew quickly. In fact, in the 1950s, an army of motorcyclists — disenfranchised youth and other returning from the military — would ride into town in so-called gypsy tours and basically take over the town. The Wild One, which starred a young Marlon Brando, was based on one of those “takeovers.” The Hells Angels would become known as one of the toughest gangs (they called it “clubs”) in the country, a bunch of sh*tkickers, basically, who had a code and set of rules that had to be followed. They are a very organized group and highly territorial. They are considered an organized crime syndicate by the Department of Justice, though clearly not everyone who belongs to the club is a criminal. They have, in fact, been infiltrated in the past by the ATF.
Barger himself served two stints in prison. He was released from federal custody in November 1992 after being arrested for conspiracy to violate federal firearms and explosives laws in murder plots to off two members of the notoriously dangerous rival motorcycle gang, the Outlaws, by blowing up a bar in Chicago. Barger also had served time in state prison for possession of heroin and cocaine and served time in Folsom. Barger himself has said that most of the members at one point were “card-carrying felons.”
The infamous Barger has hundreds of thousands of fans as Hells Angels has chapters now all over the world.