UPDATE, 10:40 AM: DreamWorks has confirmed my story, and they’ve got a title for the WikiLeaks feature — The Fifth Estate. (At right is also a first photo from the production featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange and Daniel Bruhl as Berg.) I’m putting the press release after the original scoop.
PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE, 9:44 AM: Participant Media is closing a deal to become DreamWorks‘ partner on the untitled feature film that Bill Condon is directing about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The studio has Benedict Cumberbatch playing Assange, with Daniel Bruhl playing Daniel Domscheit-Berg, whose book, Inside WikiLeaks: My Time With Julian Assange At The World’s Most Dangerous Website, was one of two books that were the primary source material for the script written by Josh Singer. Steve Golin and Michael Sugar are producing.
This becomes the fifth film partnership between DreamWorks and Participant, where Jeff Skoll and Jim Berk’s focus is to generate socially relevant subject matter. Those other collaborations are the Best Picture nominee Lincoln, The Help, The Kite Runner, and The Soloist.
This gives a clear shot at a production start on the film at a time when there has been big interest in the rogue web entrepreneur Assange. That includes one that Zero Dark Thirty scribe Mark Boal partnered on with Management 360 and financier/producer Megan Ellison that’s based on The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, an article about Assange in The New York Times Magazine written by the newspaper’s executive editor Bill Keller.
There’s WikiLeaks interest here at Sundance, where the Alex Gibney-directed documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story Of WikiLeaks premiered at The Marc Theatre. That is a partnership between Gibney and former Universal topper Marc Shmuger, and it was funded by Universal.
Assange is a polarizing figure. Some hail him as a teller of hard truths who keeps governments honest, a rogue anti-hero out of a Stieg Larsson novel. Others feel that the former computer hacker is recklessly destructive in revealing documents that put lives in danger, and that his main goal is to fuel his own notoriety. He’s also currently under a cloud for suspected sexual indiscretions that Assange claims is an attempt to silence him. Clearly, Hollywood has decided he is compelling movie material. His legal situation is evolving, as are the situations involving his sources. But that makes it challenging to do a thorough feature when the we are not sure how the third act is going to end.
LOS ANGELES, CA (January 22, 2013) – Principal photography has begun on the WikiLeaks drama “The Fifth Estate,” it was announced today by DreamWorks Studios. The film about the controversial website stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange and Daniel Brühl as Daniel Domscheit-Berg, as well as Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi, Dan Stevens, Alicia Vikander and Carice van Houten.
“The Fifth Estate” will open in U.S. theaters on November 15, 2013 and be distributed domestically by Disney’s Touchstone label. Distribution internationally will be split among Disney, DreamWorks partner Reliance, and deals made through the studio’s partnership with Mister Smith Entertainment.
Following Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Brühl), an early supporter and eventual colleague of Julian Assange (Cumberbatch), “The Fifth Estate” traces the heady, early days of WikiLeaks, culminating in the release of a series of controversial and history changing information leaks. The website’s overnight success brought instant fame to its principal architects and transformed the flow of information to news media and the world at large.
Joining DreamWorks as a co-financier on “The Fifth Estate” is Participant Media. This will be the fifth collaboration between the two companies who previously partnered on Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” the 2011 Academy Award-winning smash “The Help,” “The Kite Runner” and “The Soloist.” With a focus on real issues that shape our lives, Participant creates social action and advocacy programs to transform the impact of the media experience into individual and community action. Some of their other films include “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Food, Inc.,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Waiting for ‘’Superman,’” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and the current Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, “No.”
Bill Condon (“Kinsey,” “Dreamgirls,” “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn”) will direct “The Fifth Estate” from a screenplay by Josh Singer (TV’s “Fringe,” “The West Wing”), based on “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website” by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” by David Leigh and Luke Harding. The producers are Steve Golin and Michael Sugar, with Participant’s Jeff Skoll and Jonathan King joining Richard Sharkey as executive producers. “The Fifth Estate” is a coproduction between Afterworks and FBO, with Hilde De Laere co-producing for FBO. The film is supported by the Belgian Tax Shelter for Audiovisual Production.
Said director Bill Condon, “It may be decades before we understand the full impact of WikiLeaks and how it’s revolutionized the spread of information. So this film won’t claim any long view authority on its subject, or attempt any final judgment. We want to explore the complexities and challenges of transparency in the information age and, we hope, enliven and enrich the conversations WikiLeaks has already provoked.”