EXCLUSIVE: Filmmaker and TV producer-director Carol Polakoff last year expanded her Viewfinder Pictures banner into television with projects that include The Iron King at FX. Based on the French book series, it’s adapted by Christopher Kyle (and is particularly close to Polakoff’s heart as an American who lived in France for 21 years). That project is now joined by a host of timely dramatic properties that Polakoff has acquired and which are sparking interest from studios and networks around town. Among them are two with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Stephen Rivele, and based on his own books.
Rivele recently completed the manuscript for Time Bomb and is working with Viewfinder on the series adaptation. It’s the story of a young American who is recruited for a secret and highly dangerous mission to attack Americans inside the United States for ISIL. The ticking-clock thriller explores how and why an American would turn against his country. “This kid is a thousand kids today who are all in the same position,” explains Polakoff. The book includes other major characters who are each vulnerable to the seed of terrorism taking root. Polakoff envisions it as an ongoing series with a different “time bomb” every season.
Rivele is also working with Viewfinder on the adaptation of Lt. Ramsey’s War, a book he co-penned with its subject, Edwin Ramsey. A sort of Apocalypse Now meets Band Of Brothers, the true story focuses on Ed Ramsey, a 24-year-old posted to the Philippines as part of the cavalry — playing his first polo match in Manila on December 7, 1941. Six weeks later, in Bataan, he led the last mounted cavalry charge in American history. After the fall of the Philippines in 1942, Ramsey refused to surrender, and for the next three and a half years lived and fought behind enemy lines, organizing a 40,000-man guerilla army, awaiting MacArthur’s return. He became the Japanese’ most wanted war criminal, and transformed into a hero, earning the loyalty and love of the Filipino people. The project is eyed as a 10-hour series with potential to expand.
Viewfinder’s buying spree further includes options on the rights to two other books for film and TV series adaptations: Beating Back The Devil by Maryn McKenna; and Manhunt by Peter Bergen.
Beating Back The Devil, which was originally published in 2004, centers on the Epidemic Intelligence Service, the under-the-radar agency that is the first responder to any epidemic threat. McKenna, a journalist who was given access to the EIS and its full history, details untold stories of daring, danger and behind-the-scenes political maneuvers of the agency in every epidemic since 1951. A series adaptation is eyed as an anthology about “fighting these big fights and how politics and the survival of our race actually collide,” Polakoff tells me.
Manhunt is the true story of a small team of female CIA analysts that tracked, hunted and eventually led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden, from 1992 until his death in 2011. The behind-the-scenes thriller that’s eyed as 8-10 hours, per Polakoff, “takes the lid off of well-worn notions and puts emphasis on the people who really did these things. They lived and died for it and are relatively unsung.”
Polakoff, who is spending more time in LA these days as the projects ramp up, says she gravitates towards stories that have “international underpinnings.” The material she’s currently working on strikes a particular chord. “Our grasp for information is so enormous that telling stories, whether they are in 1300s France or about an ISIS fighter being born so to speak, are all things that at our very core we are fascinated by and frightened to death by and want to make some sense of.”
Viewfinder’s other projects include an English-language TV remake of Danish Oscar nominee Terribly Happy and a feature adaptation of On Beauty by Zadie Smith.
Polakoff founded Viewfinder Pictures in 2014, transitioning the slate from her previous banner, Carol Polakoff Productions, which she founded in 2009. The company has now brought on Dann Freeman as Development Executive; he was most recently a TV lit coordinator at Gersh which reps Polakoff and Viewfinder along with Nina Shaw of Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano. Beating Back The Devil was brokered by Joel Gotler/IPG; Stephen Rivele was repped by Sandra Lucchesi/Gersh; and Peter Bergen was repped by Tina Bennett and Erin Conroy/WME.