IMG, the sports and media business acquired by WME last year, is stepping up to finance and market a full-length feature documentary about former New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason who was stricken with ALS at the age of 34. Joining IMG in The Gleason Project is Seth Gordon, the producer of the Academy Award-winning documentary Undefeated who will produce. J. Clay Tweel (Print the Legend) will direct.
Gleason, a former football star, is considered one of the world’s most recognizable advocates living with ALS, building on the legacy of MLB Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig, who began his courageous battle in 1939. Stephen Hawking is yet another who has lived a long life with it. The 73 year-old physicist’s life was the subject of the Oscar nominated biopic The Theory of Everything. It didn’t win Best Picture, but it did win a Best Acting Oscar for Eddie Redmayne who portrayed the young Hawking who is diagnosed and then fights what was then diagnosed simply as “a motor neuron disease.”
Gleason played for the New Orleans Saints for eight years, from 2000-2008. Three years later, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and given two to five years to live. That same year, Gleason learned that his wife, Michel, was pregnant, so he started a video journal so his son would know who he was. More than 1,000 hours of footage will be cut together for the documentary.
At the same time he was creating a video autobiography, Gleason became an activist to bring awareness to the disease. He began working alongside leaders in technology and science to help develop new treatments and identify a cure. To that end, the film will also benefit from continued support from Microsoft, which is working to investigate technology that can empower people living with ALS.
“I believe part of my purpose is to inspire others; to live life to its fullest, to overcome adversity, and to explore what is truly possible. I believe this film, and the story it tells, is a product of my purpose,” said Gleason in a statement.
The Gleason Project, which is only a working title, was unveiled at an exclusive preview in Venice, CA on Thursday, April 23 at a private event attended by Maria Bello, Clay Tweel, Seth Gordon, Pat Quinn, Rich Eisen, Eric Johnson, and Jessica Simpson.
Other producers on the project include Kimi Culp and Kevin Lake Culp has worked as a producer and story developer for NBC, ABC, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Lake is currently producing Playing It Forward with Robert Downey Jr. That series, which recently launched with John Legend and Imagine Dragons, portrays unannounced street performances by superstar artists to raise money for music education in public schools.
WME and UTA will handle distribution rights on behalf of the filmmakers. The film is scheduled to be released in early 2016.