Cannes 2012: Rebekah Brooks to Get Film Treatment

News Corp. Phone Hacking Charges and Settlements

In 2011, one of the biggest international media industry stories was the phone hacking scandal at the News International U.K. newspaper unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. The past year brought settlements with such celebrities as Hugh Grant and singer/actress Charlotte Church. But it also brought formal charges against former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks, former News of the World editor Andy Coulson and others on charges of hacking. Brooks and others are also accused of conspiring to "pervert the course of justice." Trials are expected to start in the fall of 2013. More fallout will come in the new year from the Leveson Inquiry report that proposed stricter regulation of the British press, which is currently being hotly debated.

The project is one of the first for BiteSize Entertainment, a multi-platform studio unveiled by Mevio CEO Ron Bloom and producer Gene Kirkwood.

The story of Rebekah Brooks, the former CEO of News Corp.'s U.K. newspaper unit that is at the center of the phone hacking scandal, is in development as a feature film.

The film is one of the first projects of BiteSize Entertainment, a multiplatform entertainment studio unveiled in Cannes by Ron Bloom, CEO of online video site Mevio, and producer Gene Kirkwood (Rocky, New York, New York).

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Kirkwood and producing partner Ross Elliot are folding their independent film production firm Kirkwood-Elliot Productions into the new venture and making it the company's feature film production arm, providing it with a pipeline of commercial movies for wide theatrical release.

The partners are hoping to bring Hollywood and Silicon Valley closer together with franchises that can play across platforms, from shortform online content to feature-length.

Kirkwood-Elliot has optioned the rights to the Vanity Fair article "Untangling Rebekah Brooks" by Suzanna Andrews and is developing a feature film about Brooks under the BiteSize banner.

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Kirkwood told The Hollywood Reporter that the project is still in its early stages. There is no writer or director, or talent for that part, attached to the project yet and there is no budget at this stage, he said.

"We will make a film and also use it as a porthole into [Rupert] Murdoch's world," Kirkwood said. "I see it as a Citizen Kane approach."

Bloom said the story of the controversial Brooks is "a story everyone is afraid to tell." Kirkwood emphasized that he wants the story told "with empathy."

Added the producer: "She's a great story. Her rise…is almost like Great Expectations -- with a moral." Echoing themes in the stories of Richard Nixon and Boss Tweed, he said she rose from nothing to real power, which can lead to a person's fall.

Who does he want to play Brooks? "Right now, I would do it with all unknowns, all English actors," he said.

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And when could the project make it to the screen? Kirkwood said work on the project could kick into high gear soon, and he hopes to move quickly when that stage is reached -- as in the case of other films. "As soon as there is an ending [or major development in her story], we're going forward," he said. "Murdoch might retire -- who knows?"

Earlier this week, Brooks was charged with "perverting the course of justice."  

As far as distribution goes, BiteSize will determine partners on a case-by-case basis, he said.

The company has also partnered with Bob Odenkirk's Odenkirk-Provissiero Entertainment and Mary Jane Skalski for the production of Girlfriends Day, a dark comedy directed by and starring Odenkirk with Bryan Cranston, David Cross, Amber Tamblyn, David Koechner and Fred Armisen attached to play lead roles. Written by Odenkirk and Eric Hoffman, it is expected to shoot this summer.

Kirkwood says he expects the company to make a handful of low-budget comedies for a total budget of around $10 million. "I don't see the need to spend $30 million on a comedy," he said.
Also in the production pipeline is dramedy Mad Dogs and Englishmen, the story of Noel Coward’s historic two weeks at The Desert Inn in Las Vegas in 1955.
The partners in BiteSize envision the company as "a top-tier supplier of commercial projects for both the studios and major independent distributors worldwide, as well as a conduit for the development of 'born on the web' franchises," they said. The company initially will target to produce four to six higher-budgeted commercial feature films a year, as well as a unique slate of “microbudgeted” theater-quality features.
The team also is working to create a new format that Bloom calls “cross-platform programming,” which will center on theatrical releases but also utilize Mevio's online entertainment network.

“We are witnessing the emergence of the first new platform for entertainment distribution and consumption in the last 100 years," said Bloom about the Internet. "But Hollywood has barely begun to take advantage of it."

Just as Silicon Valley was the center of the social networking revolution, which reached a new stage with Facebook's IPO on Friday, "I believe Hollywood will be the epicenter of this entertainment revolution," Bloom said.
“Welcome to the new era of the entertainment entrepreneur," said Kirkwood. "It's not just about the Internet. It's about reaching a new type of audience and finding better ways to entertain them. With BiteSize, we are combining the best of Hollywood with a new economic and distribution model that brings talent closer to the bottom line. We look forward to forming important and successful alliances with filmmakers, actors and distributors around the globe."
BiteSize broke ground this week on a state-of-the-art studio, expected to open for business in 90 days, at the W Hotel in the heart of Hollywood. The company will be based in Los Angeles, with satellite production offices in New York, Miami and London., which Bloom said is profitable, is producing and distributing a slate of premium shortform entertainment shows viewed by millions every month. The company, backed by big venture-capital firms Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital, as well as Sherpalo Ventures, DAG Ventures and Crosslink Capital, says it is on pace to deliver more than 1 billion streams per month by the end of 2012. It has more 40 shows in production, ranging from technology to comedy and general entertainment.

Gene Kirkwood and Ron Bloom