EXCLUSIVE: Ang Lee will next direct an adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. It is Lee’s first film since he won the Best Director Oscar for Life Of Pi, and he’s reuniting with Tom Rothman at TriStar. Rothman, who continues to put together filmmaker-centric projects at his Sony-based label, ran Fox and worked closely with Lee on that difficult, groundbreaking, Oscar-winning 3D film that grossed $600 million worldwide. TriStar is teamed with Film4 on the picture, which will begin production in the spring.
It was expected Lee’s next film would be the Peter Morgan-scripted boxing pic about the Thrilla In Manila bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, shot in 3D at Universal. They are still working on a budget and the visual effects and look of that picture, but clearly Lee was eager to get back behind the camera.
Billy Lynn is a 19-year-old soldier whose squad survived an Iraq battle that was captured on embedded news cameras and made them instant heroes. They are brought home temporarily for a promo tour by the U.S., and they will return to battle after the tour ends at a halftime show of a Thanksgiving Day football game in Texas. The heartbreaking and humorous movie is framed in the backdrop of that game, with flashbacks of what Billy and his platoon mates went through.
Pic will be produced by Lee, Ink Factory’s Stephen Cornwell, Rhodri Thomas and Simon Cornwell and by Film4, which first optioned the book. Simon Beaufoy wrote the script. TriStar has been quietly developing this with Film4 and Ink Factory since Rothman opened shop, working closely with Film4 drama and film head Tessa Ross before she left to run the UK’s National Theatre.
Lee, who made Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Sense And Sensibility at Sony, said: “I am very excited to be going back to work and to be collaborating with my old friend Tom Rothman. The most important thing to me is storytelling and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a story that immediately gripped me. I look forward to starting the creative process with this extraordinary team of collaborators.”
Said Rothman: “Ang Lee is constitutionally incapable of repeating himself. His very DNA requires him to always find new challenges. ‘More of the same’ may be the film fashion these days, but thankfully not for this exceptional artist. Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn will be a true original, and TriStar is in the business of investing in originality, here combined with innovation. Big movies come from such combinations, as witness Life of Pi.”
It is another prestige pic at Rothman’s TriStar, which so far has set a high bar on quality. Its first production is the 3D Robert Zemeckis-directed The Walk starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit on his World Trade Center walk on a tight rope; Ricki And The Flash with Meryl Streep; the Maggie Smith-starrer The Lady In The Van and the George Clooney-starrer Money Monster directed by Jodie Foster. CAA reps Lee with attorneys Ira Schreck and Joe Dapello.