Saturday, December 12, 2015

Jewell Film May Rile

During Christmas of 1996, I could not resist changing the lyrics to the popular holiday tune "Good King Wenceslas" thanks to a Georgia name that grabbed a lot of headlines during the Centennial Olympic Games held in Atlanta.

Good King Wenceslas looked out,
on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, 
deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, 
tho' the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight ...
is that Richard Jewell?

Nearly 20 years later, Richard Jewell -- the hero security guard of the 1996 Games -- still comes to mind each caroling season. For those in need pf a refresher on his story, the ESPN 30 for 30 short "Judging Jewell" provides a good recap. 

During winter/spring 2015, I got another reminder of Jewell in the form of a dateline Hollywood news article

Not quite Christmas in July, but noteworthy for Olympic film fans.

Turns out Jewell, who died at 44 in 2007, will get his own silver screen feature with the working title "The Ballad of Richard Jewell." 

According to published reports, Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio will play Jewell and his attorney, respectively, in a big budget release set for 2016, possibly in time for the Rio Olympics. 

The title comes from the headline to the famous Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner, who landed one of the biggest 1x1 interviews of 1996 when Jewell agreed to his first media conversation before his acquittal for the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. Brenner is also known for in-depth writing that inspired the award-winning film "The Insider."

In Brenner's extensive post-Olympic "American Nightmare" article, Jewell unloaded months of pent--up rage and anxiety caused after his "right place at the right time" heroics earned scrutiny of the world's media (and just about everyone else) thanks to some loose-lipped law enforcement officials and an overzealous reporting team. 

Anxious for a global news scoop hours after the bombing, and imbued by "official sources," reporters at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution led with coverage of Jewell that -- like the Bee Gees lyrics to "I Started A Joke" -- started the whole world crying the security guard's name with specious accusations. 

Details for the new Hill/DiCaprio project remain sparse, but according to one report, Clint Eastwood was initially considered to direct the film. This turned out to be wishful thinking during all the attention for "American Sniper," however, as Eastwood put the kibosh on project speculation during a public Q&A

Just as well since Eastwood has a record of skewing Olympic facts, as reported here

With no Eastwood option, this writer hopes Martin Scorsese might direct Hill/DiCaprio again on the heels of their shared success for "The Wolf of Wall Street." 

Screenwriter Billy Ray -- working with Scorsese on his adaptation of "Devil In The White City" (starring DiCaprio) -- is confirmed to write the screenplay for "The Ballad of Richard Jewell" so maybe a Scorsese-Ray-Hill-DiCaprio combo pack for the Jewell bio may work (though not likely in time for Rio 2016, methinks).

No matter the director, I can hardly wait to see if the screenplay recreates the "Saturday Night Live" 1997 season opener scene during which beleaguered FBI Director Janet Reno -- masterfully portrayed by Will Ferrell -- absorbs a gut-busting punch by the real Richard Jewell, who followed the hit with a great one-liner: "Same time next week?" 

Later in the same SNL episode, Jewell sat in the guest chair for a funny "Weekend Update" interview with Norm MacDonald

I am also curious how the Atlanta Journal-Constitution marketing department and editorial staff will report on "The Ballad of Richard Jewell." The newspaper that "Covers Dixie Like the Dew" unfortunately stepped in poo through the whole Jewell episode, and its likely the AJC will gets its due -- in the form of unflattering publicity for a free press outlet gone awry at great expense to a private citizen -- when the film project gains steam. 

This copy of court documents related to Jewell's legal action against the AJC offers a peek at both sides of their cases which became moot upon Jewell's death.

When the film starts shooting, here's hoping Centennial Olympic Park may finally get some screen time as well. 

Photos via Hollywood Reporter, AJC.com, Associated Press, Hulu and Howard Berger blog.



In case Billy Ray is reading, here's my contribution to "The Ballad of Richard Jewell" screenplay drafts: 

INT. JEWELL FAMILY APARTMENT - SUMMER AFTERNOON

RICHARD enters from bedroom as his mother places home-cooked meal on small dining table by window facing suburban apartment complex parking lot. He is wearing an Olympic security uniform and ball cap. She adjusts the volume on small TV screen to soften Tom Brokaw's NBC evening report on monitor. 

RICHARD
(while sitting at table and scooping food onto his plate)

Looks good, momma. 
Glad to eat quick before heading downtown. 
This beats that fast food from last night
that upset my stomach.

MOTHER

You eat your veggies. 
I don't want you getting 
hungry on your late shift.

(BROKAW on monitor talking about the first week of the Atlanta Olympics reaching the weekend, highlights from the day's competition, and live shots of crowds at Centennial Olympic Park -- audible volume but part of background while RICHARD and MOTHER meal conversation continues)

MOTHER (CONT'D)
(looking at screen while talking with cheek full of food)

Looks like it'll be a busy night for you down there.

RICHARD

Should be. 
I'm glad for the peace 
and quiet here at home. 
It gets noisy there. 

(RICHARD and MOTHER continue eating and chatting inaudibly as camera pans back to show relative calm of tree-lined apartment parking lot out the window).

MOTHER
(cheerfully)
I just love Tom Brokaw. 
He is so handsome. 
He's always been one of my favorites.

The film advances through the evening of the bombing, Richard's heroic actions, and initial interviews with investigators. The film later resumes in the same apartment during breakfast a couple of days later. 

INT. JEWELL FAMILY APARTMENT - MORNING LIGHT OBSCURED BY WINDOW BLINDS

RICHARD enters from bedroom in boxer shorts and T-shirt, rubbing eyes after a near-sleepless night as his mother places scrambled eggs and bacon on dining table by window. The TV is off.

(Audible muttering heard from outside window)

MOTHER

Come get something to eat. It's been so noisy outside. 
They must finally be getting around to painting things. 
I keep hearing the painting crew yelling at each other 
but I didn't open the blinds since I'm in my robe. 
I didn't even go out to get the paper yet. 

RICHARD

Oh, I'll get the paper. 
I want to see the latest reports 
from the other night.

RICHARD opens door to reach down for paper on welcome mat. 

(Off-screen REPORTER yelling "There he is!" as flashbulbs pop reflected in apartment entryway)

RICHARD quickly shuts door and steps back slowly, startled and bewildered. Holding newspaper, he turns attention to table as MOTHER reaches for the window blind string to draw up the blinds. Camera across room facing table and window shows RICHARD and MOTHER from behind and their view as the raised blinds reveal a sea of hundreds of television news cameras, reporters, photographers and bystanders -- some in the threes or atop news trucks -- peering at the Jewell breakfast scene. 

MOTHER
(gasps from shock of the scene, quickly lowers blinds for concealment)

Oh, my God! What in the world?!

As if to distract herself, MOTHER quickly turns on the television which is still tuned to NBC. On screen, Tom Brokaw is speaking about the Olympic Park bombing from earlier evening. RICHARD and MOTHER watch intently as camera zooms in on BROKAW on screen.

BROKAW
(with photo of RICHARD on screen)

They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still holes in this case.

MOTHER
(lips quivering) 

What is he talking about? 

(she starts to cry as RICHARD looks down, somberly shaking his head as he unfolds the newspaper to reveal his photo on the cover and an accusatory headline above the fold)

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