Exclusive: James Franco in Talks to Direct ‘ESPN’ Movie for Focus Features

     July 25, 2018


Back in 2011, authors James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales released a book titled Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN that chronicled the formation of the powerhouse sports network in oral history form. It caused something of a stir in Bristol, and the following news may as well, as Collider has exclusively learned that James Franco is in negotiations to direct an adaptation of the book for Focus Features.

Collider has also learned that Halt and Catch Fire co-creator Christopher C. Rogers has been tapped to rewrite the script, which will follow Bill Rasmussen, a communications executive who teamed up with his son, Scott, to launch the world’s first 24-hour cable TV network. But first, the Rasmussens had to max out their credit cards to scrape together enough cash to reserve a satellite transponder so they could show sporting events nonstop throughout the day.


Image via A24

In addition to Rasmussen and his family, key characters will include Stu Evey, the former Getty Oil executive who became the founding chairman of ESPN; NBC Sports president Chet Simmons, who left NBC to become the president of ESPN; RCA salesman Al Parinello; Anheuser-Busch exec Claude Bishop; and Scotty Connal, an early VP of production at ESPN.

Miller was hired to write the script in 2015, and he told former SportsCenter anchor Dan Patrick that the film will effectively will be a corporate biopic of ESPN, similar in approach to both The Social Network and Moneyball. The book is based on more than 500 interviews with ESPN insiders, athletes and others. Michael De Luca, Jamie Patricof and Julie Yorn are producing the film, while executive producers are still being worked out.

The elephant(s) in the room, of course, are the sexual misconduct allegations against Franco that resurfaced last winter and may have cost him an Oscar nomination for his performance in The Disaster Artist, though he vehemently denied any wrongdoing. Those allegations must be mentioned here (in fact, HBO chief Casey Bloys addressed them earlier today at TCA, saying the network “felt comfortable with a second season” of Franco’s series The Deuce) but the purpose of this article isn’t to rehash them, and you’re welcome to debate this hiring on social media. Speaking strictly from an industry perspective, the ESPN movie would be a natural evolution for Franco as a filmmaker, as it’s the kind of project he seems well-suited for on the heels of The Disaster Artist, which was easily one of the Top 15 films of 2017. I don’t know what this adaptation will ultimately look like, but it sure would be interesting to see actors depict the formation of ESPN, interspersed with talking head interviews from the actual people who were there, a la American Animals, or what I imagine Steven Soderbergh‘s Moneyball might have been had that version been made instead of Bennett Miller‘s version.

The ESPN news arrives hot on the heels of this morning’s announcement that the Coen brothers’ new Netflix movie (yes, movie), The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which co-stars Franco, will debut at the Venice Film Festival. The always prolific Franco has three films in post-production as a director — Zeroville, The Long Home and The Pretenders — and the Oscar-nominated actor next stars in the sci-fi action movie Kin. He’s also producing the stripper saga Zola for A24. Franco is represented by UTA, Anonymous Content and Sloane, Offer, Weber & Dern, and a representative for the actor did not respond to a request for comment.

Rogers and his Halt and Catch Fire co-creator Christopher Cantwell have written several screenplays, including one that has Top Gun 2‘s Joseph Kosinski attached to direct. He’s repped by UTA, Management 360 and Bloom Hergott.


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