John DeLorean movies ready to duke it out

The race to make a movie based on the life of John DeLorean has been a slog, not a sprint. During a span of nearly three decades, there have been books, TV movies, documentaries and a raft of failed feature projects and unproduced screenplays left by the side of the road.

Now producers Steve Lee Jones and David Permut think they have the vehicle that can reach the finish line, one fueled by a screenplay from an Emmy winner, the unearthing of 27-year-old FBI surveillance tapes, consulting agreements with DeLorean's brother Charles and his former lawyer and, perhaps most importantly, the only official involvement of his estate and its executor, DeLorean's fourth and final wife.

For years, the estate had spurned numerous overtures until Jones came calling. He was given an exclusive option in September 2009, according to attorney William Courtney, who represents the estate and executor Sally DeLorean.

"John's wife liked the way Mr. Jones said he would portrayJohn as the last American maverick," Courtney said.

There are four other DeLoreans racing around on the feature-development track, at least two with significant financial backing and with DeLorean's children Kathryn and Zachary as consultants.

For his big-budget take, Permut has teamed with Jones, who was an executive producer on HBO's "You Don't Know Jack." Adam Mazer, who won an Emmy for the script, is finishing the DeLorean screenplay.

"There's a reason people are so keen to make this movie; the story is so powerful," Permut said.

Still, there are reasons the tale of the colorful auto tycoon whose gull-wing dream didn't fly hasn't made it to the big screen. It's a drama at a time when dramas are a tough sell, it's set in the world of business when there is an anti-business climate and it's about an anti-hero who for all his vision failed in business and was caught trying to sell cocaine to an undercover FBI agent.

Attorney Howard Weitzman eventually got DeLorean off in a 31⁄2-month trial by proving the feds entrapped him, but by then, DeLorean's company, reputation and career were a wreck.

Jones thinks the time has come to tell this tale.

"It is a story that exemplifies big business and conglomerates and government involvement with business, which is of course very topical today with the bailouts that took place," he said.

The story as he sees it is of a "maverick" who bucked the system.

"John was running General Motors, had a beautiful wife, a cushy position, and he basically told them to screw themselves and left because he wanted to take it to another level," Jones said. "He foretold the fallout of the major car companies in America and predicted that if GM didn't get with the program and start considering the amount of energy cars were using, they would eventually fail."

The story of a titan of industry who experienced a spectacular fall from grace also is what fuels the other contenders.

"It was an American dream in that he came from a blue-collar family and had the opportunity to do a lot, but it was almost too much," said Aram Tertzakian of XYZ Films, one of three producers of another DeLorean movie project. "He flew too high, and then the powers that be made sure he wasn't successful, and all the freedom and fame and glamour that came with rising so high got in his way and led to a great fall."

Like Permut and Jones, Tertzakian and fellow producer Nick Spicer want to attract a star to play DeLorean, but they have a more modest goal of making their movie with a budget of less than $20 million.

Two other projects on the fast track also are looking for major feature treatment. One is based on a script by James Toback being written for producers Brett Ratner and Robert Evans, with financing already set up through India's Reliance Big Entertainment (as part of a deal with Ratner's Rat Prods.). The other, with Kathryn DeLorean on board as a producer, is from Evolution Entertainment, Nine/8 Entertainment and former agent Michael Menchel, with a script by "Saw IV" writer Thomas Fenton.

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