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After more than two decades of stops and starts, it was looking like The Alchemist — a feature adaptation of the much-beloved best-selling novel by Paulo Coelho — would finally get made.
Earlier this month, it was announced at the Cannes Film Festival that Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Westbrook Studios was joining Netter Films to produce The Alchemist with a cast led by Sebastian de Souza, Tom Hollander and Shohreh Aghdashloo. PalmStar Media, which had acquired the screen rights to the book some five years ago, would finance, with the company’s founder, Kevin Frakes, set to direct. A September shoot in Morocco was imminent, and a 2022 release was planned.
Now, with the project in preproduction and crew and some cast already on the ground, Alchemist‘s journey to the screen has turned to lead. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that financing has hit undisclosed obstacles. The project has been shut down, and the crew sent home, according to sources.
However, a production spokesperson said the film remains fully financed and instead ran into a rights-transfer issue. The issue is anticipated to be resolved in the coming days and the project back on track within weeks, potentially.
“This isn’t a financing issue, this is just an issue with a rights transfer,” the spokesperson said via email. “There was a gap in an ordinary-course execution of the production rights transfer, and as a result, production entered a temporary shutdown. We expect to be back up and running with our incredible cast and crew as soon as the rights transfer concludes, and we can get everyone back on set.”
Westbrook had no comment, and PalmStar and Netter Films did not reply to a request for comment.
Coelho’s novel — which has sold over 100 million copies since its 1988 publication and holds the Guinness World Record for most translated work by a living author — centers on a young Spanish shepherd who has a dream and embarks on a quest to find hidden treasure in the great pyramids of Egypt.
Warner Bros. first acquired the film rights from the Brazilian author in the early ’90s. Laurence Fishburne, a fan of the novel, acquired the film rights from the studio, with plans to adapt and direct the film himself. It was in 2008 that The Weinstein Co. would attach themselves as producers, partnering with Fishburne and buying the film rights.
In 2015, it was reported that Idris Elba was attached to star in the Weinstein adaptation, with Fishburne set to direct, but the project was put into turnaround some months later and in 2016 PalmStar acquired film rights and the developed screenplays for $5 million. At this time, Fishburne was still attached to direct. “It has just come back around again,” Fishburne told THR in 2018, adding the feature will come together “sooner rather than later.”
By the time of the July 2021 announcement, Fishburne was no longer directing, with PalmStar principal Frakes instead set to make his feature directorial debut on the project, having co-written the screenplay.
In a statement earlier in July, Netter mentioned the story’s themes of never giving up. “Hundreds of millions of people over the past three decades have found inspiration in The Alchemist to pursue their dreams, listen to their hearts, and never to lose hope when faced with adversity,” he said.
With this latest development and an unclear future, it now seems that sentiment could be truer than ever for the producers.
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Warner Bros. Discovery