EXCLUSIVE: Bob Simonds’ STX Entertainment is in talks to finance and distribute domestically Russ & Roger Go Beyond, about the time that the soft-core porn impresario and film critic teamed to make 1970’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Deadline already has revealed that Will Ferrell is circling the role of Meyer, and there has been buzz about Josh Gad, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill mentioned as possibles to play Ebert. A docu on the late critic, the Steve James-directed Life Itself, just got nominated for a PGA Award. The film is being produced by Mark Amin’s Sobini Films and David Permut and Richard Waltzer, with a script by Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons scribe Christopher Cluess. Lot of directors already circling for a movie that will begin production later this year.
The mini-studio STX was formed last year by TPG Growth, Gigi Pritzker, Hony and Simonds. The label, which added heavy hitters Adam Fogelson and Oren Aviv, has been working on its first slate, an effort that started with writer-director Gary Ross’s Free State Of Jones, the fact-based drama that has Matthew McConaughey aboard to play Newton Knight, the leader of one of the greatest rebellions in Civil War history. STX was in talks last fall to fund up to $20M of the pic’s $65M budget. The Mississippian defected from the Confederate Army, banded together with a group of like-minded soldiers and set out to form their own state known as the Free State of Jones. This has been a passion project for Ross for a long time.
Russ & Roger Go Beyond takes place in the late 1960s, when cheap counterculture films like Easy Rider were minting money and 20th Century Fox was struggling mightily after a number of big-budget flops. Meyer already was established as the outlaw helmer of softcore pulp films like Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and he wanted the legitimacy of making a studio film. Richard Zanuck, then head of 20th, gave him that opportunity because the filmmaker’s profit margins were so high and his costs were minuscule.
When Meyer agreed to take on Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, he insisted the script get written by Ebert, the third-string movie critic of the Chicago Sun-Times who had written one of the few positive reviews Meyer had ever received. Given the esteem in which Ebert was held as a film critic when he died, it seems remarkable he meshed so well with Meyer and his brigade of buxom actresses. The film will follow that relationship and the struggle with the ratings board. It became the rare major-studio release with an X rating but was a big profitable hit, and Meyer and Ebert stayed close until the former died in 2004. Ebert passed away nine years later.