'Kennedys' Producer Joel Surnow to Make Feature Directorial Debut with Drama 'Small Time' (Exclusive)

7:23 PM PST 03/13/2012 by Borys Kit
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Surnow, who co-created 24, will helm a semi-autobiographical indie drama that he wrote and is producing.

Joel Surnow, the co-creator of 24 and the man behind the Emmy-winning miniseries The Kennedys, is moving into features, tackling a passion project whose roots were planted more than 35 years ago.

Surnow will direct Small Time, a semi-autobiographical indie drama that he wrote and is producing. Executive producing are Jonathan Koch and Steve Michaels through their production banner Asylum Entertainment.

The story centers on a used car dealer in Los Angeles who is still in love with his ex-wife and is dealing with a son that wants to forego college to work alongside his father on the lot.

At its crux, Surnow describes the project as a buddy movie about two salesmen, “funny and charming guys who live this off-beat existence," he says. "The main character is dealing with having chosen to live a certain life with his partner but in the process he has lost other important parts.”

Surnow wrote the script in 1976 when he graduated UCLA film school, wanting to tell a story partly based on his father. a drape salesman. He wrote the initial draft with a friend named Randall Wallace (not the same writer who wrote Braveheart), who tragically died three months later.

“When he passed away, I put it away,” Surnow says.

Surnow went on to make a name for himself in television, working on such shows as The Equalizer and Falcon Crest in the 1980s, before co-creating with Robert Cochran the Fox antiterrorism drama 24. That show became both a ratings and critical hit, as well as a political touchstone in the years following Sept. 11. Surnow, a rare conservative in Hollywood, also found himself in crosshairs of the Kennedy family when he took on the mini-series The Kennedys, which was dropped by the History channel and picked up by Reelz Channel. Kennedys then set ratings records for the network.

Surnow occasionally returned to the Small Time script over the years, but he wasn't ready to get serious about it. Until now.

“Last year, after the Kennedys, I decided that the script has been such a character in my life that it was time to do something about it," Surnow says. "I was going to take 35 years of craft and finally make something that had a lot of meaning to my life."

Surnow streamlined and updated certain parts of the story and made certain changes, such as altering the occupation of the characters. Surnow will get screenwriting credit; he will share a “based on characters created by” credit with Wallace.

The project will be independently financed, a route fueled by his experience on Kennedys.

“I had such a wonderful experience on The Kennedys; the fact that I had ownership of the project, I wanted to go the same way here," says Surnow, who is repped by Paradigm.

A late April shoot is being eyed.

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