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Film of 'Million Little Pieces' Up in the Air

January 28, 2006|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

Oprah Winfrey isn't the only one having second thoughts about author James Frey.

With Frey's admission Thursday to the talk-show host that he fabricated details of his memoir "A Million Little Pieces," which recounts his drug and alcohol recovery, Warner Bros. is debating whether to move forward on the movie version.

"We're reevaluating our position on what to do," Warner Bros. President Alan Horn said Friday. "Obviously, we watch 'Oprah' and, like everybody else, we're aware of the change in authenticity of this piece."

In 2003, Warner Bros. won the film rights in a classic Hollywood bidding war in which studios clamor for hot new manuscripts.

Warner Bros. paid $125,000 to option the book and will pay an additional $425,000 if the studio makes the movie, according to two people involved in the sale of the project. Frey also received $150,000 to write the screenplay, they said.

The studio bought the project for two production companies it does business with, one run by "ER" producer John Wells and the other co-founded by actor Brad Pitt.

That was before Winfrey launched Frey's book into the bestseller stratosphere last fall when she selected it for her popular book club. Then, on Jan. 8, the Smoking Gun website posted a lengthy expose showing numerous discrepancies between the author's real-life experiences and his accounts in the book.

After initially defending Frey to talk-show host Larry King, Winfrey had a change of heart, skewering Frey on her show Thursday and telling him, "I feel duped." Frey admitted to her that he had exaggerated the time he spent in jail and lied about such accounts as having had a root canal without Novocain and how his girlfriend died.

Frey also acknowledged the accuracy of the Smoking Gun report.

Shortly before that report surfaced, Warner Bros. received a new draft of the script from writer-director Mark Romanek, who made "One Hour Photo," starring Robin Williams. He revised an earlier version written by Frey and "The Libertine" director Laurence Dunmore.

Executives at the Burbank studio said Romanek had hoped to start shooting the movie this spring. Although the project has no final budget, let alone a green light for production, the studio has envisioned it costing $11 million to $13 million.

Now, however, whether "A Million Little Pieces" gets made at all is up in the air.

"At some point in the near future, we'll meet and decide what, if anything, to do about it," Horn said.

In typical Hollywood fashion, some executives and agents have made a parlor game of how to turn the Frey fiasco into an opportunity. One suggestion: Hire screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who transformed his inability to faithfully adapt Susan Orlean's nonfiction bestseller "The Orchid Thief" into the screenplay for the film "Adaptation."

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