EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures is teaming with upstart producer-financier Sister and Bohemian Rhapsody producer Graham King to mount a movie about the Bee Gees, the trio whose worldwide sales of more than 220 million records established them as one of the biggest-selling groups of all time. While Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb first began performing together in the late 1950s, much of their popularity came after they wrote songs for Saturday Night Fever that prolonged the popularity of disco and led to one of the top-selling albums ever.
Paramount has purchased the life rights to the Gibb family estate on behalf of GK’s King and will be able to use their classic songs in the movie. Sister — the venture just launched by Elisabeth Murdoch, Stacey Snider and Chernobyl producer Jane Featherstone — will come aboard as either a producing partner or a co-financier.
It is the first U.S. project for Sister and the driver behind it is Snider, who became a principal in the company and head of Sister’s Los Angeles division after leaving as chairman/CEO of Twentieth Century Fox when Disney completed its acquisition of that studio. Featherstone runs Sister London.
Paramount just found success making Rocketman, the Dexter Fletcher-directed drama about the rocky formative years of Elton John — a film that had strong performances by Taron Egerton (who sang the signature Elton John hits) and Jamie Bell as Sir Elton’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin.
The deal gives King another music-driven drama to follow Bohemian Rhapsody, a collaboration he and the surviving members of Queen struggled to make for years. Driven by Rami Malek’s Oscar-winning turn as iconic frontman Freddie Mercury and the band’s tunes and Live Aid set, the film grossed $903 million on a $52 million budget and got five Oscar nominations including Best Picture — and won four — to become the template for a flurry of music biopics currently in the works.
The Gibb family oversees the estate of the family, whose sole surviving member is Barry Gibb, whose soaring falsettos defined the trio’s disco era. None of the architects of the project would comment beyond confirming the deal. So here is some background on the group that will fuel the movie.
Barry, Robin and Maurice began singing together as a pop music group formed in 1958. Their first rush of fame came after their father got a tape of their music to Beatles manager Brian Epstein, who passed it along to colleague Robert Stigwood, who became a steady figure in their rise. Back then, Robin Gibb’s vibrato lead vocals drove hits like “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” The trio found themselves in a career rut with the onset of disco that put pop in a corner, when Stigwood brought them in to construct a soundtrack around Saturday Night Fever. The John Badham-directed Paramount film starred Welcome Back, Kotter TV heart-throb John Travolta as the head of a group of Italians from Brooklyn with dead-end jobs who on weekends flashed their disco-dancing moves to become polyester-clad kings of the club circuit. The Gibbs are reputed to have read a rough script draft, and then over a weekend in a France hotel room, they wrote a slew of songs from “Staying Alive” and “Night Fever” to “More Than a Woman” and others. Barry Gibb’s falsetto became the dominant voice, and the result helped Saturday Night Fever capture the cultural zeitgeist like few movies do. It gave the Bee Gees’ career a second wind.
The trio was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Brian Wilson, the leader of another sibling-based harmonizing group, the Beach Boys. There were personal tragedies, including the death of hitmaking younger brother Andy Gibb at age 30 of the heart condition myocarditis, and the death of twins Robin and Maurice Gibb later on. The brothers wrote their own songs for themselves and others and were hailed by John Lennon and others for their musical acumen. There seems plenty here to drive a narrative film driven by those memorable songs.
They will look to quickly name a writer and get started.