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The book: 'Stolen Innocence' By Elissa Wall with Lisa Pulitzer (William Morrow) -- The buyer: Sharp Independent and Killer Films

June 05, 2008|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

The deal

Sharp Independent at HarperCollins and Killer Films option Elissa Wall's "Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs," the story of a girl forced into marriage at 14 as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and her later escape from the polygamist cult.

The players

Jeffrey Sharp ("Evening" and "Proof") and Christine Vachon ("Boys Don't Cry" and "I'm Not There") are producing. Wall is represented by attorney Roger Hoole.

The back story

When Wall escaped the FLDS -- and delivered dramatic courtroom testimony against cult leader Warren Jeffs -- she got a crash course in how to present herself to the news media. But she wasn't quite as prepared when Hollywood came calling.

Soon after William Morrow agreed to publish "Stolen Innocence," HarperCollins' book-to-movie unit raised the idea of turning her story into a film. Sharp, who runs the unit, was keen on partnering with Vachon, with whom he'd worked before.

When they sat down with Wall, however, the author expressed concerns. "I was hesitant about a film, and still am," she said. "I wanted the integrity of my story to be respected. I wanted to know that things wouldn't get overly dramatized if the story moved to the screen."

Sharp and Vachon offered assurances and promised to keep her in the loop. But they too had concerns. For Sharp, the danger was that Wall's story could become just another salacious TV movie. Ideally, the book would become a "serious, filmmaker-driven story, and it could be stunning," he said. "This is not just a book of the moment. It's about a girl who finds the inner strength to break away and who overcomes terrible abuse, including rape."

For Vachon, who has made a career of turning real-life stories into compelling films, Wall's book represents a challenge and an opportunity: "We weren't interested in doing a woman-in-peril movie, where she's rescued at the eleventh hour from an evil polygamist," the producer said. "This story is richly layered and explores complex issues about why people join cults. It's got a powerful role for a young actress. It could be a great movie -- and we do know from this past weekend that women go to the movies."


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