EXCLUSIVE: The Weinstein Co. has put its long-gestating adaptation of Paolo Coelho’s global bestseller The Alchemist into a 12-month turnaround. The decision marks the end, for now at least, of a near-decade long attempt to get the New Age page-turner to the big screen. Deadline understands that the rights now have reverted to Laurence Fishburne, who has been involved with the project even longer than the Weinsteins have.
Coelho’s book is something of a publishing sensation, having sold more than 65 million copies in 56 languages. It reputedly holds the Guinness world record for most translated work by a living author. The story centers on a young Spaniard who embarks on a quest to find a hidden treasure within the Egyptian pyramids.
The Brazilian author first sold rights in 1994 to Warner Bros for $250,000. As the project languished, Coelho unsuccessfully tried to buy back the rights, at one point event having a $2 million offer rebuffed. Fishburne eventually acquired the feature rights with indie banner A-Mark Entertainment from Warner Bros. At the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Weinstein announced he would be personally producing the project. It was believed, but not confirmed, that TWC had acquired film rights from Fishburne and A-Mark for just under $3 million in a deal brokered by Paradigm, who also reps Fishburne. Throughout it all, Fishburne has been attached to direct. As recently as this summer, Idris Elba was attached to star in the project. It is unclear at this stage if he remains associated with the it, given the numerous other offers at his door. Reps for Fishburne and Elba declined to comment.
One of the issues behind the lengthy development of the project has always been just how much action should be included in the adaptation of Coelho’s largely spiritual, if epic, tale. Budgets on have varied over the years from $60 million to $100 million. The escalating budget is believed to be a major reason why the Weinsteins haven’t been able to get the project off the ground yet.
The story and setting would seemingly be a natural fit for a Middle East-based investor. Fishburne was believed to have held talks with members of Abu Dhabi’s royal family as well as Japanese conglom the Kadokawa Group. At the time of the Cannes announcement, Weinstein also appeared to be courting money from the region, saying: “The film will be a bridge to the Middle East. The book has been an overwhelming success there. It’s a part of the world we need to know more about and extend bridges to it.”
Certainly the filmmaking infrastructure today in the region is infinitely superior to what it was back in 2008. Tom Cruise shot parts of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol in Dubai while Abu Dhabi execs scored two major coups by attracting both Furious 7 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens to shoot in the desert-set metropolis, aided in part by the 30% cash rebate on production spend. Elba most was recently in Dubai filming Star Trek Beyond.
The move by the Weinsteins to put the project into 12-month turnaround comes against a backdrop of the brothers re-upping for three more years, layoffs of about 40-50 staffers and a reduced distribution slate. Speaking to Deadline’s sister publication Variety, the company confirmed what many already suspected: TWC 3.0 will be a slimmed-down operation, with the number of films it releases cut from 18 a year to between eight and 10 and a much bigger focus on TV, which has become in recent years a profitable business for the company.