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Ang Lee has picked his next project. The Life of Pi helmer has signed on to direct an adaptation of Ben Fountain’s satirical novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk for Tom Rothman’s TriStar Productions and Film4.
Lee had been developing an untitled project for Universal about Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, but sources say there were casting issues with the 3D boxing film, and Lee suddenly became available a couple of months ago. It’s a huge coup for Rothman, who nabs one of the most in-demand directors in film. Even more curious is how Rothman outmaneuvered his former studio Fox, which released the box-office giant Pi, for Lee’s attention.
The film centers on 19-year-old soldier Billy Lynn and his squad, who survive a battle in Iraq that is captured by embedded news cameras, pushing them into the limelight as heroes. They’re brought home to the U.S. for a promotional tour that culminates at the halftime show of a Thanksgiving Day football game in Texas before they are returned to the war. Most of the movie is set during the game, with flashes away to other events.
The film will mark Rothman and Lee’s fifth collaboration. They worked together on The Wedding Banquet when Rothman was running Samuel Goldwyn Films. Their most recent venture, Life of Pi, grossed $600 million at the worldwide box office.
“I’ve had a relationship with Ang for 25 years,” Rothman tells THR. “He’s easily turned down 100 movies since Pi. But that’s where patience and persistence come into play.”
The film will be produced by Lee, Ink Factory’s Stephen Cornwell, Rhodri Thomas and Simon Cornwell and by Film4, which originally optioned the book.
Simon Beaufoy wrote the script. TriStar has been developing the project with Film4 and Ink Factory since opening its doors at the end of last year. Tessa Ross, who oversaw film and drama for Film4 until recently being named to run the U.K.’s National Theatre, was instrumental on behalf of that studio.
Making the movie for TriStar returns Lee to the Sony Pictures umbrella, where he enjoyed great success with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Sense and Sensibility.
“I am very excited to be going back to work and to be collaborating with my old friend Tom Rothman,” said Lee. “The most important thing to me is storytelling, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a story that immediately gripped me. I look forward to starting the creative process with this extraordinary team of collaborators.”
Lee is repped by CAA and Schreck Rose.
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