Columbia picks up 'Wettest County'


UPDATED 6:46 p.m. PT March 31, 2008

Columbia is donning its galoshes to make the trek to "The Wettest County in the World."

The studio has pre-emptively picked up the upcoming book by Matt Bondurant for Red Wagon to produce. John Hillcoat ("The Proposition") is attached to direct.

The novel, a sweeping, historical crime drama of the American South, is based on the author's grandfather and two grand-uncles -- three infamous brothers who made up a fierce criminal gang at the center of the country's moonshine trade. The brothers eventually were shot down in December 1930 after they refused to join the illegal cartel set up by the Commonwealth's attorney Carter Lee, grandnephew of Robert E. Lee. Carter Lee subsequently was tried for conspiracy.

At the same time, writer Sherwood Anderson was on the trail of the bootlegging story, reporting on the moonshine trade and the trial for Liberty magazine and researching his novel "Kit Brandon," published in 1936.

"Wettest County" follows the brothers on their exploits while Anderson tracks them, trying to get inside the Mafia-like violence and double dealing in what turned into the biggest bootlegging conspiracy the country ever saw and the longest court case in the history of Virginia. The novel will be published by Scribner/Simon & Schuster in October.

Red Wagon's Lucy Fisher and Doug Wick are producing. The company's Rachel Shane brought the project into the company.

Rachel O'Connor will oversee for the studio. No writer is on board to adapt the project.

Describing the book as "in the tradition of some of the best American novels," Columbia president Matt Tolmach said, "This kind of material is rare and doesn't come along very often, and we look forward to moving quickly."

Hillcoat, who is in production on the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" with Charlize Theron, Viggo Mortensen and Guy Pearce, is repped by CAA, Anonymous Content and Curtis Brown in the U.K.

Bondurant, also the author of "The Third Translation," is repped by RWSH.