EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures and Illuminaton Entertainment have acquired the rights package to make a film based on the 60 Minutes segment Gospel for Teens. Illumination Entertainment’s Chris Meledandri has made the project his company’s first live action family film deal, and he will produce with Escape Artists’ Todd Black. The script will be written by Stephen Belber, who is currently adapting the book Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun, as a potential starring vehicle for Jamie Foxx. Belber most recently sold The Long Run to Sony and Overbrook Entertainment, and he wrote and directed the Jennifer Aniston-Steve Zahn-starrer Management. The rights package was brokered by ICM.
What have they bought? 60 Minutes‘ Lesley Stahl spent a year trailing Vy Higginsen, an accomplished gospel singer who started a program for teens in Harlem with the intention of preserving the art form by introducing it to a young generation. Her rule: her charges were expected to leave their problems at the door and focus on the music. She discovered that her most gifted kids were unable to separate themselves from their problems at home. Many of them were scarred by indifferent or absent parents, and tragedies that scarred them and made them feel worthless. Once Higginson helped her students reveal and deal with their problems, they soared. Illumination’s Ashley Kramer, following Meledandri’s mandate to find music-driven properties, brought in this one. Escape Artists’ Black, who found The Pursuit of Happyness after watching a 20/20 segment on the film’s protagonist Chris Gardner, got the same vibe from Gospel For Teens. His partners, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch will be exec producers along with Michael Radutzky. Higginsen will be a co-producer.
I’ve attached the 60 Minutes segment, which appears in two parts. It’s about half an hour long and there are a couple of Lipitor ads, but if you’ve got time, it’s pretty touching stuff: