EXCLUSIVE: We hear that Blockers filmmaker and Pitch Perfect franchise scribe Kay Cannon will direct the biopic Del & Charna about Charna Halpern and her partnership with the late legendary improv maestro Del Close. Together they built Chicago’s Improv Olympic, a prestigious comedy training ground for Saturday Night Live players and scribes, as well as the New York and Hollywood showbiz scene that boasts an all-star award-winning alum roster of Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Chris Farley, Jon Favreau, Adam McKay, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Dratch, Cecily Strong, Seth Meyers, Matt Walsh, Vanessa Bayer, Bob Odenkirk, David Koechner, Andy Dick, Cannon herself and many more.
Del & Charna will follow the unlikely pairing and tumultuous 19-year relationship of Close and Halpern, the latter who continues to own, run and teach at the IO theater. Together as friends, saviors and soulmates, the duo helped each other overcome his addiction, financial ruin, and their own personal demons to ultimately establish improv as an art form. As such A-list talent were cutting their teeth at IO, it wasn’t unheard for Halpern to put a roof over their head, feed them and coach them through bad patches.
Close was a forefather of Chicago’s Second City and teacher to such heavyweights as John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd. In 1981 Close was butting heads with the establishment over their use of improvisation as performance art. Halpern offered him the chance to teach his radical long-form improv “The Harold” in a new underground theater known as the ImprovOlympic which turns 38 years old this year. Together they re-wrote the rules of improvisation, urging their students to bring intelligence to their art and justice to their characters. Close died in March 1999.
“If Uta Hagen created ‘Respect for Acting than Del Close and Charna Halpern created ‘Respect for Improv.’” Myers once told me in a 2001 profile I did for Variety about the duo. Close was a character actor as well appearing in such movies as Ferris Buellers Day Off, Thief, American Graffiti, The Blob and playing the heavy who tries to intimidate Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. Close died in March 1999.
Red Crown Productions will produce Del & Charna off Rich Talarico (Key & Peele‘s) and Alex Fendrich (Teachers) screenplay. Daniel Crown and Yoni Liebling of Red Crown will produce as well as Cannon and Laverne McKinnon (Girlboss) of K&L Productions. EPs are Irene Marquette of K&L Productions.
“We are thrilled to bring the story of Del Close and Charna Halpern, two comedic icons to the screen and explore how their evolving relationship impacted the history of comedy and influenced future performers,” said Crown. “We look forward to partnering with Kay Cannon, whose comedic filmmaking has brought the genre to new heights.”
“Improv has been such an instrumental part of our lives that we’re incredibly honored to tell this special, unique story with the blessing of Charna Halpern. Dan and Yoni are amazing champions, and we’re excited to have Rich and Alex writing because they bring a wealth of knowledge to the project as former students of both Charna and Del,” said Cannon and McKinnon, co-founders of K&L Productions.
“My life with Del was always funny, sometimes scary and extremely profound. I’m overjoyed to finally share our story with the world,” said Halpern.
Red Crown’s slate include the upcoming festival hit Honey Boy from Alma Har’el and star/scribe Shia LaBeouf about his turbulent child star upbringing. Pic opens Nov. 8 from Amazon Studios. Red Crown also executive produced Anthony Mandler’s contemporary drama All Rise, formerly titled Monster, based on the award-winning novel by Walter Dean Myers and starring Kelvin Harrison Jr, Jennifer Hudson, and A$AP Rocky. The film made its World Premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Red Crown also recently acquired the transgender screenplay Queen, an intimate portrayal of activist and model Corey Rae’s real life high school transition process and how she became the world’s first openly transgender prom queen, and are also producing the upcoming independent film Topside directed by Celine Helad and Logan George.
Cannon, who is next directing Sony’s Cinderella starring Camila Cabello, is repped by WME and Hansen, Jacobson, Teller, Hoberman, Newman, Warren, Richman, Rush & Kaller.