Now that Will Smith has stepped off the pic Brilliance, the whole town is after him. I’m hearing he has aligned himself to that football concussions project that Ridley Scott and Giannina Facio have been developing. The pic, still untitled and inspired by the GQ article “Game Brain,” is at Sony, and Peter Landesman wrote the script and will direct. He made his helming debut on the JFK pic Parkland. Back when Deadline broke the story, Scott was looking to direct the concussions movie project after his massive Moses movie Exodus with Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton. Scott moved over and now will produce with Facio, along with Shuman Company’s David Wolfhoff and Larry Shuman. Landesman has completed the script, and the plan is to shoot this fall. Smith will play Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic neuropathologist who was a total outsider and made the first discovery of CTE, the concussion syndrome that has been fatal in contributing to the suicides of such former NFL superstars as Dave Duerson and Junior Seau.
As I wrote in November, Scott got in early, intending to create a drama focusing on the debilitating effects that concussions are having on our sports heroes, and the role that league owners play in allowing it to happen. His plan is to create a morality tale on that issue, much the way that Michael Mann’s The Insider took on the tobacco industry’s complicity in covering up the addictive and cancer-causing effects of cigarette smoking. Smith’s camp denied this a couple of days ago, but things move quickly when an actor has a slot open. Smith met with the director this week, and the intention is to try and be first, as there are other concussion projects brewing.
Blue Caprice star Isaiah Washington is planning to star in an indie project with writer/director Matthew A. Cherry (a former NFL wide receiver). And Parkes/MacDonald Productions partners Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald are developing a slightly different look at the endemic problem, mounting a movie based on screen rights to League Of Denial: The NFL, Concussions And The Battle For Truth. The book was written by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada (co-author of the baseball steroids scandal book Game Of Shadows) and Steve Fainaru, who won a Pulitzer for his Washington Post series on private contractors in Iraq. Parkes/MacDonald is producing with Abu Dhabi-based Image Nation. The book that was the basis for the critically acclaimed investigative Frontline documentary that aired on PBS this year and shone a light on the dangers of head injuries and the NFL’s failure to protect its players that eventually led to a $765 million settlement with thousands of players who waged a class action lawsuit. There was a particular focus on Mike Webster, the longtime center for the Pittsburgh Steelers who was one of the toughest guys to ever play the game. After his death, Webster’s brain was examined and found to have a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that was the result of what doctors said was the equivalent of Webster suffering the head trauma equivalent of being in 25,000 car accidents over his high school, college and 17 years in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Legendary is still trying to replace Smith as the star of Brilliance. They went hard after Chris Hemsworth, but he has The Avengers and the sequel to Snow White And The Huntsman, and the only way it would have worked is if Legendary pushed the picture, something the company didn’t want to do at this point.