Columbia, Mann get into spy game
Studio picks up Litvinenko tome 'Dissident'
Call it spy vs. spy.
Columbia Pictures and Michael Mann have entered the race against Warner Bros. and Johnny Depp to mount a film about Alexander "Sasha" Litvinenko, the ex-KGB agent who was fatally poisoned.
Based on a proposal and a sample chapter, Columbia paid $500,000 against $1.5 million early Friday for the screen rights to "Death of a Dissident," a book that is being co-written by Alex Goldfarb and the subject's widow, Marina Litvinenko. The book will be published in late May by the Simon & Schuster subsidiary Free Press.
Red Wagon partners Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher, who brought the project to the studio, will produce. Mann is in negotiations to direct. If that happens, his Forward Pass will produce as well.
Among the bidders for "Death of a Dissident" was WB, Depp and Graham King's Initial Entertainment, which had already made an option deal to base a Litvinenko film on with "Sasha's Story: The Life and Death of a Russian Spy". That book is being written by New York Times London bureau chief Alan Cowell.
According to sources, WB offered to match Col's winning bid, but came away empty-handed. Col topper Amy Pascal, Mann and Wick and Fisher were particularly aggressive and won the auction, which was conducted by CAA and London-based publishing agent Ed Victor.
This will be an espionage thriller, exploring the collision between deep rooted Russian power structure enforced by the KGB and its successor, the FSB, and the new wave of wild west capitalism that came on the heels of Glasnost. And the way in which Litvinenko got caught between those two colossal forces. From his deathbed, Litvinenko blamed Russian president Vladimir Putin and his regime for the poisoning, ruled to be from polonium-210.
Columbia will also seek to fast track a project that comes not only with "Death of A Dissident," but also the life rights of Litvinenko's widow, Marina.
According to the proposal viewed by Daily Variety, the book will contain first-hand information from the widow, and Goldfarb. A four-page proposal laid out the book's intention to describe Litvinenko's career as went from insider to outcast in the political epicenter of post-communist Russia. Goldfarb's close relationship with the ex-KGB agent is made clear in a 22-page sample first chapter that was part of the auction.
There are other books on the subject being shopped as well. Steve LeVine, the Wall Street Journal correspondent who was Daniel Pearl's reporting partner in Pakistan, has a Random House deal to write a Litvinenko/KGB book that is tentatively titled "Polonium." That book is being shopped by agents Jody Hotchkiss and Tom Wallace.
And Litvinenko's own 2002 memoir, "Blowing Up Russia: The Secret Plan to Bring Back KGB Terror," is about to be reissued in the U.K. Rights for that are held by Braun Media, a U.K.-based producer.