James Dean, who died in a 1955 car crash at the age of 24, is making an unexpected return to the big screen.
The cultural icon, known for Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden, has been posthumously cast in the Vietnam era action-drama Finding Jack.
Directed by Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh, the project comes from the filmmakers’ own recently launched production house Magic City Films, which obtained the rights to use Dean’s image from his family. Canadian VFX banner Imagine Engine will be working alongside South African VFX company MOI Worldwide to re-create what the filmmakers describe as “a realistic version of James Dean.”
Adapted by Mari Sova from Gareth Crocker’s novel, Finding Jack is based on the existence and abandonment of more than 10,000 military dogs at the end of the Vietnam War. Dean will play a character called Rogan, considered a secondary lead role.
“We searched high and low for the perfect character to portray the role of Rogan, which has some extreme complex character arcs, and after months of research, we decided on James Dean,” said Ernst, who also produces with Golykh for Magic City Films alongside Donald A. Barton of Artistry Media Group.
“We feel very honored that his family supports us and will take every precaution to ensure that his legacy as one of the most epic film stars to date is kept firmly intact. The family views this as his fourth movie, a movie he never got to make. We do not intend to let his fans down.”
While Finding Jack will be live action, The Hollywood Reporter understands that Dean’s performance will be constructed via “full body” CGI using actual footage and photos. Another actor will voice him.
Multiple Oscar nominated songwriter Diane Warren wrote the key song for the film and acclaimed composer Laurent Eyquem is on board to score the film.
Preproduction on Finding Jack starts Nov. 17, with a goal for a worldwide release on Veterans Day 2020. Magic City Films is handling the foreign sales.
The filmmakers are now hoping that the CGI technology used to bring Dean back to life onscreen could soon be deployed on other well-known figures.
“This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us,” said Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, which represents Dean’s family alongside more than 1,700 entertainment, sports, music and historical personalities, including the likes of Burt Reynolds, Christopher Reeve, Ingrid Bergman, Neil Armstrong, Bette Davis and Jack Lemmon.
Added Ernst: “Our partners in South Africa are very excited about this, as this technology would also be employed down the line to re-create historical icons such as Nelson Mandela to tell stories of cultural heritage significance.”
Barton added: “Now that we have closed with this iconic figure, we look forward to rapidly closing our remaining actors.”
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter‘s Nov. 6 daily issue at the American Film Market.