EXCLUSIVE: Training Day scribe David Ayer has been hired to write the new version of Scarface for Universal Pictures. The film will put a contemporary spin on the outlaw tale first released in 1932 with Paul Muni playing an Italian who took over Chicago, and then turned into the spectacularly violent 1983 film that starred Al Pacino as Tony Montana, a Cuban who took over the cocaine trade in 1980s Miami. The new film is being produced by Marc Shmuger and his Global Produce banner along with Martin Bregman, who produced the Brian De Palma-directed version. When the studio set up the project in late September, the intention wasn’t to do a remake as much as to marry the common elements of the two films with a contemporary crime context. Basically, the focus is on an outsider, an immigrant who barges his way into the criminal establishment in pursuit of a twisted version of the American dream, becoming a kingpin through a campaign of ruthlessness and violent ambition.

Ayer tells me that he is not at all cowed by stepping into an iconic title. “This is a fantasy for me, I can still remember when I saw the film at 13 and it blew my mind,” he said. “I sought it out; I went after it hard. I see it as the story of the American dream, with a character whose moral compass points in a different direction. That puts it right in my wheelhouse. I studied both the original Ben Hecht-Howard Hawks movie and the DePalma-Pacino version and found some universal themes. I’m still under the hood figuring out the wiring that will translate, but both films had a specificity of place, there was unapologetic violence, and a main character who socially scared the shit out of people, but who had his own moral code. Each was faithful to the underworld of its time. There are enough opportunities in the real world today that provide an opportunity to do this right. If it was just an attempt to remake the 1983 film, that would never work.”

Ayer takes on the job after completing End Of Watch, the Exclusive Media Group-funded drama that Ayer wrote, directed and produced. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena star as LAPD partners and best friends who navigate their work and personal lives. It started out as a found footage-style film, with the POV coming from everything from the camera mounted on every cop car to security cameras and other surveillance devices. Ayer said it evolved into something not so rigid, which he called a mix of “unconventional storytelling interwoven with conventional photography that creates a portrait of their lives. It’s a cross between Cops and Mean Streets.” It is Ayer’s third directing effort after Harsh Times and Street Kings, and he’s got a cut that he’ll test with an audience before finishing and showing it to potential domestic distributors before year’s end. The film, which was financed by Exclusive Media, will be ready to be seen by domestic distributors before year’s end. Ayer’s repped by CAA and attorney David Weber.