EXCLUSIVE: Lynn Shelton will direct a movie about a scandalous true story of a private investigation agency comprised of soccer moms that was actually a front for drugs and crooked cops, headed by an ex-cop-turned P.I. agency owner trying to realize his dream of mounting a reality series for Lifetime. Get all that? Shelton is partnered on the feature with This American Life, whose Ira Glass and Alissa Shipp will produce. The story is based on The Incredible Case of the PI Moms, an hourlong radio report on This American Life by Joshua Bearman (whose article became the basis for Argo), and the Peter Crooks book The Setup. Crooks is the journalist who uncovered and exposed the seedy side of the private investigation agency.
Shelton is the director of Laggies, Touchy Feely, Your Sister’s Sister and Humpday. She has written a script with Megan Griffiths (Lucky Them), and UTA is in the process of packaging the project and arranging the financing, so this should all happen quickly. It is a crazy story that starts with a young mom getting a job at a P.I. agency staffed entirely by attractive soccer moms, run by a charismatic ex-cop named Chris Butler who treated his employees like they were Charlie’s Angels, working cases that included insurance scams and cheating husbands. The agency and its fetching detectives made it a magnet for press coverage, but while media including Dr Phil broadcast pieces about the soccer mom agency, the enterprise was actually committing more crimes than it was solving. It turned out Butler was in cahoots with a local drug enforcement official to sell drugs that had been confiscated by the police. One reasons the gumshoe needed money? To fund a proposed reality show about the agency that got picked up by Lifetime and was promptly shut down when the scandal was exposed. The soccer moms were said to be oblivious to the drug conspiracy, though even they were growing uncomfortable with the increasingly seedy things they were asked to do in order to entrap cheating spouses and the like, with TV cameras chronicling the stings. Key to uncovering this was Crooks, who started out with the intention of writing a positive story until he was contacted by a source who was involved in the sordid secret drug business.
Said Shelton: “When I heard this episode of This American Life, I was completely blown away by the characters and stranger than fiction plot of this incredible true story. Yet all of these characters are real, driven by the same things that drive us all. As I listened, it was as if the movie was already playing in my head. It’s that cinematic.”
Said Glass: “The Setup tells one of the most popular stories we’ve ever had on This American Life,” with fascinating details you can’t fit into a one-hour radio show,” said Glass.” Pete Crooks was set up as a mark in this true-life caper, until he out-detectived the detectives. His chatty, lively account of what happened is a jaw-dropping tale of ambition, crime and reality TV.”