EXCLUSIVE: The long-gestating film about the early days of ESPN has added James Andrew Miller as screenwriter, Focus Features confirmed. Miller is author with former Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales of Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World Of ESPN, an exhaustive chronicle of the sports giant’s rise and reign, featuring such very big personalities as Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Stuart Scott and Chris Berman.
Focus confirmed the news after Miller acknowledged Monday on Patrick’s syndicated sports-talk radio show that he had “just signed the papers” to write the screenplay. Patrick had pressed a reluctant Miller on air about the project, surprising Miller with his inside knowledge of the deal, before Miller opened up.
Miller told Patrick the film effectively will be a corporate biopic of ESPN, similar in mindset and approach to The Social Network (about the rise of Facebook) or Moneyball (about the Oakland A’s controversial early use of “sabremetrics,” computer analysis, to run the team). The ESPN film certainly will have some combustible personal interactions to juice up story lines, including Olbermann, who left amid many recriminations, and Patrick, who long had a frosty relationship with some in the ESPN hierarchy.
The Miller/Shales book is a gossipy oral history of ESPN, based on more than 500 interviews of insiders, athletes and others. In 2011, Deadline reported that a film based on the book was going ahead at Fox, but enthusiasm there waned after a change in executive leadership, when Miller said the studio decided it no longer wanted to do sports-related movies.
Given all the work that went into writing the book, Miller said he “won’t have to do any research” for the screenplay.
Shales and Miller previously co-wrote a best-selling oral history about NBC’s Saturday Night Live, called Live From New York. That book was just reissued and updated in time for the show’s 40th anniversary.
Miller also previously wrote an insider account of the U.S. Senate, as well as screenplays for the 2001 feature Deep Blue and an episode of the 2000 TV series D.C. He worked for years with Shales at the Washington Post and also spent time at CNN.
Director on the ESPN film remains Derek Cianfrance.
Producers now include Jamie Patricof and Lynette Howell, who were producers on Cianfrance’s breakout films, Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines. Other producers include the previously announced Dana Brunetti, Michael DeLuca (who together also did The Social Network) and Julie Yorn, as well as Brunetti’s Trigger Street partner Kevin Spacey. Focus Features’ SVP Production, Josh McLaughlin, will oversee the project.