Filmmakers take a novel approach

Lawrence to helm 'Elephants' at Fox

Fox 2000 has emerged from a competitive bidding situation with the rights to "Water for Elephants," Sara Gruen's best-selling historical love story.

Francis Lawrence is attached to direct, and Richard LaGravenese is writing the adaptation, which will be produced by Andrew Tennenbaum, Gil Netter and Erwin Stoff.

The book centers on a 90-year-old man reminiscing about his life and is set during the Depression, when he found work at a B-level circus taking care of the animals. He sees the brutality of circus life while falling for the wife of an abusive animal trainer.

The book spent 12 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list in 2006 and hit the list again last year when it was released in paperback. More than 2 million paperbacks have been sold, according to the studio.

Fox 2000 beat out Warner Bros., Universal and Paramount for the project, in part because the producing team and director were won over by the company's passion and track record with literary adaptations and the attention it gives them.

The studio is fast-tracking the project. Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler acknowledged the translation might face challenges because of the nature of the story, yet she believes in the project's power. Gabler is overseeing the project, along with senior vp production Rodney Ferrell.

"It's a period movie," she said, "and it's a circus movie. But when we heard from Francis and Richard, it was evident that they are focused on a concise vision of the book.

"We want to make this with a responsible budget. It is a risky piece of material, but there is a lot going for it. It's inspirational and it packs a lot of punch. And it'll attract a lot of talented people."

Lawrence, repped by CAA and 3 Arts Entertainment, last directed 2007's "I Am Legend," which grossed $256 million domestically and $585 million worldwide.

LaGravenese, repped by CAA, is one of the town's most in-demand adapters. He wrote the recent book-to-film translations of "P.S. I Love You" and "Freedom Writers."(partialdiff)