Half Shell sets three projects

Deals include horse-breeding drama at HBO

NEW YORK -- HBO is developing "Stud," a drama set in the intense, insular world of horse breeding, and has attached "Dexter" writer James Manos to exec produce and pen the pilot.

The project is being co-exec produced by Mark Burrell, James DeJulio and Rob Salvatore of indie production banner Half Shell Entertainment, which brought it to the network.

"Stud" comes as part of a slew of new deals from the upstart Half Shell, which is ramping up quickly.

The company has optioned rights to two other desirable print properties: "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer," Warren St. John's nonfiction book about University of Alabama football fans, and roughly a dozen articles from New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki for a "Traffic"-like narrative project exploring the tentacles of the financial collapse.

The untitled Surowiecki saga, for which the New Yorker scribe and the three Half Shell partners have penned a treatment, will draw from the writer's columns, including a financial piece from the summer titled "Sponsoring Recklessness" and a mortgage story from the spring called "Home Economics."

The story won't look at specific historical figures but rather will examine the butterfly effect that the financial boom and bust of the past few years has had on one area, much in the way "Traffic" looked at the many reverberations of the war on drugs. Characters may include a mortgage lender who arranges loans to the regulator who does little to change lax policies to the working-class person who can buy a home because of the easy credit.

Producers say they envision it as a feature or a miniseries, with a finite beginning and end.

"Stud" will draw from a nonfiction book by Kevin Conley about the world of Kentucky horsebreeding. The one-hour scripted drama will examine the saga of one family of noted breeders and tap topics ranging from immigration to relationships to performance-enhancing drugs as the family seeks to find the perfect breeding combinations. "It's about people who play God with nature but can't really control their own lives," Salvatore said.

Half Shell acquired rights to the Conley book and have assigned them to HBO as part of its deal. Manos, who also worked on "The Sopranos" and "The Shield," wrote the pilot for Half Shell and is penning a rewrite for HBO.

"Rammer" centers on the colorful and passionate devotees of Crimson Tide football who travel the country following their team. Producers say they are conceiving the project as a buddy comedy more than as a sports movie.

St. John is the New York Times writer who penned "Fugees," the story of refugee soccer players that Universal bought in 2007.

Half Shell, which also recently acquired rights to Chuck Klosterman's dead-musician tome "Killing Yourself to Live," is in talks with writers on both the St. John and Surowiecki projects.

New Yorker writers are riding a particular hot streak. Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way, for instance, optioned Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" and is developing a story based on some of its chapters.

Half Shell, which also secures financing, is honing a specialty in taking real-life stories and dramatizing them for the screen. "What we want to do is take intriguing topics and develop them into accesible, quality stories," Salvatore said. "It's not always easy to do, but if it's done right, we feel there's a real market for it."