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Brett Ratner stood on a gold curtain-lined stage built for a Rat Pack-inspired jazz band in the backyard of his Hilhaven Lodge estate just before 9 p.m. Aug. 10 and began with an admission. He had invited several hundred friends and colleagues — among them Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara, CBS Corp. chairman Leslie Moonves, Viacom’s Shari Redstone, Stevie Wonder and Sharon Stone — and many probably were wondering, “What the hell are we doing here, and what is this about?”
They were about to find out as the RatPac Entertainment co-founder, joined by emcee Larry King, announced the presence of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The big reveal: Ratner and billionaire RatPac partner James Packer have forged a partnership with the U.N. to produce a scripted anthology miniseries. Titled In Harm’s Way and created by writer-producer David Raymond, the RatPac-financed project will dramatize true stories of U.N. staff, with each six- to eight-episode season focused on a historic crisis in a different location.
Think East Timor in 1999 for the first season, followed by six- to eight-episode seasons based around conflicts in Congo, Gaza or even Syria, with actors portraying real-life staffers, Raymond, 36, tells The Hollywood Reporter. He’s currently finishing the scripts for season one with the goal of heading into production early next year, he said. A distribution partner is not yet attached.
From left: Eva Chow, Yoo Soon-taek with husband Ban Ki-moon, Brett Ratner, Stevie Wonder and Sharon Stone gathered to unveil the series.
“The industry has shifted, thank God, after True Detective. The idea of me pitching a closed-ended anthology miniseries that could have multiple seasons helmed by different filmmakers with different storylines was so alien until that happened,” explains Raymond, who has been working with the U.N. on developing the concept for about five years before officially pitching it to Ratner in May inside his suite at the Hotel du Cap in Cannes. “The hope is that in 20 years’ time, a 16-year-old kid studying in Texas or Kenya or Korea can go and look at any number of stories of what the U.N. is doing or has done by watching this series or the other content that will be produced alongside it, like documentaries and web content, and then we’ve done our job because people are much more aware of the amazing work they are doing.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wasn’t one scratching his head about the night’s itinerary. In 2009, under his supervision, the U.N. launched the Creative Community Outreach Initiative to collaborate with content creators to help promote peace and raise awareness of global issues. Since that time, shows like Madam Secretary, The Amazing Race, Ugly Betty, Law & Order: SVU and The Mysteries of Laura have filmed at the United Nations, though In Harm’s Way marks the first narrative project to be launched specifically telling stories inspired by the U.N. and its employees.
“I can speak to many people, but the messages that can be delivered through movies or TV series can be much more powerful all throughout the world,” the secretary-general, who will exit his post Dec. 31 after being in office since 2007, told The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive interview inside Ratner’s Hilhaven Lodge. “Art and music don’t have boundaries and can be reached to any place. I’m very encouraged that after many, many years of talk with the Hollywood community that we’re now going to have In Harm’s Way, a way to show the heroic actions of United Nations Peacekeepers to make this world more peaceful.”
Hollywood figures often involve themselves in U.S. politics, but international activism is rarer. As such, Ratner calls his participation in the project a huge honor: “The work the U.N. does around the world is unbelievable, and for us to be the first production company that has been given a partnership to bring their message around the world through narrative content is unprecedented. We do lots of documentaries, and we want to create content that has an impact and influences people around the world. And that’s just like the work they do — people really don’t know the impact that these guys make around the world and the lives they save.”
Mariah Carey with French fashion designer Hedi Slimane. Other attendees included Lee Daniels, Naomi Campbell, Shawn King, Katharine McPhee, Dakota Johnson, Emily Ratajkowski, Courtney Love and Brittany Snow.
Redstone, for one, sparked to the idea. “What RatPac is doing with the U.N. in creating these opportunities is a fantastic idea to bring awareness to some very important issues,” said Redstone during a preparty VIP cocktail reception in Ratner’s living room. “The more people who are aware of what he’s trying to do, the better it will be.”
Ban made sure the guests gathered in Ratner’s backyard were briefed on what his biggest initiatives have been during his U.N. tenure, things like climate change, empowering women and promoting sustainable development. Ban spoke for nearly 20 minutes, praising Ratner and Raymond’s project and joking that he’d need photographic proof of the celebrities in the audience to show his daughter back home.
One of those guests, Mariah Carey, who is engaged to Packer, granted the secretary-general’s request after she closed the night’s speeches by thanking everyone for showing up to honor the VIP guest, even if she seemed to be among the contingent of confused revelers at the bash (sponsored courtesy of Freixenet, Wally’s, Enderby Entertainment, Cuckoo Lane, Jaguar, National Bank of Canada and Soothe, the latter of which sent everyone home with a complimentary 60-minute massage.)
“Everybody, thank you for being here tonight to support this cause and being at Hilhaven,” laughed Carey, outfitted in an exposed-lace-bra-and-black-leather ensemble. “Which is the party capital of the world, so the United Nations should be here. OK, I’m sorry, I’m a little festive and just happy to be here for Brett and to be here with all of you special amazing people.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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