EXCLUSIVE: Disney is in discussions with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films and David Oyelowo’s Yoruba Saxon to come on board and produce feature project The Water Man, written by newbie writer Emma Needell. This is a fairytale moment for Needell, fittingly given she has now closed her deal with the studio. The Water Man is Needell’s first spec script.
Having grown up on a 750-acre cattle farm in Colorado — an experience that has directly influenced her creative work — Needell studied film at John Hopkins, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and also completed a stint at FAMU in the Czech Republic. Prior to selling Water Man to Disney, she was working as an assistant to writer-directors Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett. Now she finds herself in the big leagues.
The Water Man is a magical family drama about a precocious young boy Gunner who, in order to save his ill mother, runs away from home to find a mythic/legendary character called The Water Man, who has been rumored to be able to cheat death. While extremely close to his mother, he and his father Amos have an adversarial relationship and are forced to learn about each other as Amos goes on the search for his son. It has elements of Stand By Me mixed with the tonal ambition of classic Steven Spielberg films like E.T. or Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
If a deal sets, Oyelowo would play Amos as well as produce alongside Selma collaborator Winfrey. Disney reps declined to comment when contacted by Deadline.
Needell is repped by Anonymous Content and WME, who signed her on the strength of The Water Man. Her lawyer is Melissa Fox. Oyelowo is repped by CAA, Inphenate and Hamilton Hoddell in the UK. His attorney is Ira Schreck.