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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Scorsese set to direct Sinatra biopic

Screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson penned the script

By Borys Kit and Jay A. Fernandez

Frank Sinatra is finally getting his biopic, directed by no less a celebrity profiler than Martin Scorsese.

Universal Pictures has acquired "Sinatra," a script by "Field of Dreams" screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson with Scorsese attached to helm. Mandalay Pictures' Peter Guber and Cathy Schulman are producing along with Scorsese and his Sikelia Prods.

The deal comes after years of negotiations with Frank Sinatra Enterprises, a joint venture of the crooner's estate and Warner Music Group. Internal politics of the estate, where family members had to form a consensus as to how to tell the story and, more importantly, just how much of the story to tell -- was a hurdle that had to be overcome.

"The obstacles were ones of comfort and trust," Schulman said. "Everybody that was in control of the rights had to unanimously agree to do this. And having Marty at the head of this was the thing that ultimately cracked the code, so to speak."

There were also complicated rights issues, with the entire venture at one point getting bogged down over apparel merchandising rights, which the studio and the family were haggling over. That issue appears to be resolved.

Casting the crooner
Who would you like to see as Frank Sinatra?
Harry Connick Jr. (Swing's his thing)
Justin Timberlake (In Sinatra synch)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Can Marty's fave sing?)
Jamie Foxx (Cool is color blind)
Michael Imperioli (Jersey roots and croons)
Scorsese has taken on a host of historical figures throughout his career, most notably boxer Jake La Motta, billionaire recluse Howard Hughes and Jesus.

"Sinatra" not only will allow Scorsese to tackle the life of a fellow Italian-American with enormous cultural impact, it will also give him a chance to paint a portrait of Sinatra's pal, Dean Martin.

The filmmaker has for more than a decade been developing a biopic on Martin titled "Dino," working with a script by his "Casino" and "Goodfellas" writer Nicholas Pileggi based on the Nick Tosches biography, "Dino: Livin' High in the Dirty Business of Dreams."

"Dino" has been dormant for quite some time, though the research done for that project will likely inform "Sinatra" to an extent.

Speaking of research, Robinson, who was nominated for an Oscar for writing 1989's "Field of Dreams," had amassed 30,000 pages of it for "Sinatra," according to Schulman. And distilling it into a feature film has led the creative team to shun a traditional, linear storytelling approach in favor of a more unconventional one.

"It'll be almost like a collage," Schulman said. "In the way one of his records captures different rhythms and moods, this will have collective scenes and moments that form the overall story as opposed to a conventional timeline. It's about capturing moments as opposed to trying to tell the entire story in too little time."

A comparison could be made to Todd Haynes' 2007 Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There," which sketched out impressions of Dylan's life and work using six different actors, though only one actor is expected to play the Chairman of the Board.

With the artistic and social life he led, Sinatra's personal history is perfectly tailored for dramatic storytelling. Born in Hoboken, N.J., and raised during the Depression, he built a singing career that weathered many changes in popular culture, all the while racking up 31 gold records and countless other honors. He also had a successful career as an actor, proving naysayers wrong by earning an Oscar for 1953's "From Here to Eternity."

His personal life was just as eventful. He suffered from depression, was alleged to have connections to organized crime and was married four times; two of his wives were Ava Gardner and Mia Farrow.

No one has yet been cast in "Sinatra." The icon, who died 11 years ago Thursday, was portrayed on the small screen by Philip Casnoff in a 1992 TV movie and by Ray Liotta in HBO's 1998 movie "The Rat Pack."

Robinson recently signed with Endeavor. Scorsese is also repped by Endeavor.


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