The American side of the FIFA scandal is getting the movie treatment with Ben Affleck among those bringing story to the big the screen.
Capping off eight days of negotiations, Warner Bros. has won a bidding war for Houses of Deceit, a book by BuzzFeed investigative reporter Ken Bensinger that is being seen as the definitive account of American FIFA exec Chuck Blazer and his role in the largest sports and public corruption scandal in history.
Guymon Casady and Darin Friedman are producing via Entertainment 360, the production arm of Management 360. Affleck is producing with Matt Damon and their Warners-based Pearl Street Films.
Gavin O’Connor, who recently wrapped the Affleck thriller The Accountant for the studio, is attached to direct with Anthony Tambakis on board to write the script. Tambakis worked with O’Connor on the director’s 2011 fight drama Warrior as well as Jane Got a Gun, which O’Connor stepped into direct when that Natalie Portman Western lost its original director.
”” image=”2394658″ excerpt=”Frederic Auburtin opens up about the $30 million pro-FIFA film that grossed only $918 in the U.S.: “Now I’m seen as bad as the guy who brought AIDS to Africa or the guy who caused the financial crisis.””]
Not all the deals are closed but are expected to be soon.
At the center of Deceit is Blazer, the soccer executive who became perhaps the biggest instrument in the sport’s popularity in the United States, taking it from runt status and growing its current stature. He went from an unemployed soccer dad to a FIFA executive committee member and executive vp of the U.S. Soccer Federation as well as general manger of CONCACAF, the soccer governing body for North and Central America.
But the man who looked like Santa Claus was also developing the nickname “Mr. Ten Percent” for his slice of lucrative sponsorship and television deals that allowed him live large (Blazer reportedly had a luxurious apartment in Trump Towers just for his cats) and was slowly slipping into a web of corruption.
His stature as one of soccer’s top dogs began to unravel when in the 2010s, allegations of bribery began to surface as well as massive tax evasion. Even as he admitted to conspiring to accept bribes with other FIFA executives, he was also informing for the FBI. And he was also a deemed a cooperating witness in May’s arrests of FIFA executives, an event that rocked soccer worldwide and exposed its rotten core.
The book proposal also has several protagonists and tells of how Blazer was slide tackled by two federal agents, one an IRS pencil pusher and then-U.S. attorney, now-Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Bensinger was an Pulitzer Prize-nominated Los Angeles Times investigative reporter who raised eyebrows when he left for BuzzFeed, the website better known for its clickbait lists, in early 2014. He proved doubters wrong with one of his first stories, published in June 2014, an exhaustive look at Blazer, titled Mr. Ten Percent: The Man Who Built — And Bilked — American Soccer.
The article became the basis for a book proposal that culminated in a deal last week, with Jonathan Karp and Bob Bender at Simon & Shuster beating out seven other suitors.
At the same time as the book deal was going down, Bensinger’s literary manager Justin Manask slipped the proposal to Casady and Friedman at 360.
While there was discussion whether the book should be adapted as a television series, a mini-series or a feature, it attracted the attention of O’Connor, who wanted to tackle it as a movie. And having just wrapped production on Accountant, he opened his goalie net for Affleck, who was keen to take it to his home studio, Warners.
As that was happening, interest in the book was heating up around town and a bidding war ensued. Warners prevailed over Broad Green Pictures and Red Wagon, and over Anonymous Content.
Chantal Nong and Cate Adams will oversee for the studio.
O’Connor is repped by WME and Morris Yorn. Tambakis is repped by Ellen Goldsmith-Vein at Gotham. Bensinger is repped by Manask at the Office for Literary Adaptation and David R. Patterson at the Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency.
11:00 a.m., June 26 An earlier version of this story said O’Connor is co-writing the script. He’s not, just Tambakis. Also Bensinger was nominated for the Pulitzer but did not win.