DreamWorks Jump-Starts Martin Luther King Project With Warner Bros. and Hot Writer (Exclusive)

6:20 PM PST 04/28/2011 by Borys Kit
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Dr. Martin Luther King

"The Score" scribe Kario Salem is in negotiations to pen the project.

While other Martin Luther King projects seem to be on the ropes, DreamWorks’ untitled MLK biopic is starting to come together.

Kario Salem, best known for writing the 2001 Robert De Niro-Edward Norton drama The Score, is in negotiations to pen the project, which also sees Warner Bros. coming on board to co-finance and to distribute with Disney’s Touchstone label. (Disney is where DreamWorks is housed.)

DreamWorks acquired the life rights of the civil rights leader in May 2009, with Sam Nappi, Suzanne de Passe and Madison Jones on board as producers. Not only did it secure the cooperation of the King estate, the studio also has access to King's intellectual property, including his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Warners, meanwhile, had been working on its biopic for several years and had a Salem script in deep development. Salem is said to have done three-and-a-half years worth of research and interviews when writing his screenplay.

But while the DreamWorks and Warners efforts were more or less under the radar, competing projects began making a lot of noise. Lee Daniels has been trying to raise financing for his take on the 1960s marches in Selma, Ala., and he has David Oyelowo attached to play King. Universal, meanwhile, was planning to finance and distribute Memphis, a look at the final days of MLK, to be directed by Paul Greengrass.

But those projects are having a tough time making it to the screen. Universal backed out of Memphis less than a month ago, leaving Greengrass to seek funds independently.

One major reason for the hurdles, according to sources, is the disapproval of the MLK estate, which is not afraid to exert pressure to stall projects it deems as unflattering to the civil rights leader.

In recent weeks, both DreamWorks and Warners realized that one project had the thumbs-up of the estate and the other was backed by years of research, meaning a team-up would best tell the MLK tale. Salem will now write a new script with the estate’s backing.

Nappi, de Passe and Jones are still on board as producers. Dexter King, Bernice King and Martin Luther King II are acting as exec producers.

Mark Sourian and Jonathan Eirich are overseeing for DreamWorks. Sarah Schechter will oversee for Warners.

Salem is something of a hot writer these days. He’s scripting Scarpetta as a starring vehicle for Angelina Jolie and wrote Mavericks, which Curtis Hanson is planning to direct this summer.

He is repped by CAA, Anonymous Content and attorney Jason Sloane.

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