Monday, April 17, 2006
Updated: June 14, 8:05 PM ET
Autistic teen's story picked up by Columbia Pictures
By Sam Alipour
Special to ESPN.com
After hitting six 3-pointers in the final minutes of Greece Athena High School's home basketball finale, autistic team manager Jason McElwain was hoisted onto his teammates' shoulders, courted by the press, and feted by President Bush.
Now, the 17-year-old national icon is going Hollywood.
"Spiderman" producer Laura Ziskin will produce the film based on J-Mac's life for Columbia Pictures. Magic Johnson and Mary Martin are also attached as producers in some capacity, and two-time Oscar winner Alvin Sargent, who wrote the scripts for "Spider Man 2" and "3," is in talks to write the project.
Almost immediately following their son's inspirational and heart-warming performance -- on Feb. 27, in the final home game of Greece Athena's season, McElwain got off the bench when beckoned by his coach, proceeded to score a game-high 20 points, all in the final 3:12, and was carried off the court on his teammates' shoulders -- David and Debbie McElwain were swarmed by studios and producers eager to snatch the film rights to the story. Among the earliest suitors was Disney-based production company Mayhem Pictures, producer of "Miracle" and "The Rookie." When Disney passed, Mayhem principals Gordon Gray and Mark Ciardi began discussions with the family to shop the rights to other studios.
But it was a phone call from another sports icon that gave the McElwains pause. Johnson was said to be the driving force in packaging the deal and integral in connecting the parties with powerhouse William Morris Agency in late March for film and television representation.
The agency then took the McElwain family and Greece Athena coach Jim Johnson's life rights onto the open market, ultimately receiving a bid from nearly every major studio. Bidding came to a standstill late last week, with the McElwaines unreachable during a family vacation -- which included a Thursday visit to the Cavs' locker room -- and the Passover and Good Friday holidays.
The sides worked through the weekend before reaching an agreement Monday afternoon.
Columbia and Laura Ziskin Productions narrowly beat out a bid from the team of New Line Cinema and producer Jon Shestack. Considered to be a mini-major studio with a résumé void of sports flicks, New Line would seem an odd home for the film deal. But it was New Line's relationship with "Air Force One" producer Shestack which boosted its bid.
As the parents of an autistic child, Shestack and wife Portia Iverson are the founders of Cure Autism Now, an organization committed to raising money -- $27 million to date -- for autism research and the recruitment of scientists to study the disease.
But ultimately, producing pedigree won out. Ziskin is the producer of the "Spiderman" trilogy (with the third installement due out in 2007), as well as the 1980s football film "Everybody's All American."
Columbia Pictures, meanwhile, is emerging as Hollywood's go-to-studio for sports films. After a $20 million opening for April's "Benchwarmers," Columbia will unveil the NASCAR comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" in August and "Gridiron Gang," a football drama starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, in September.
Sam Alipour writes the "Media Blitz" column for ESPN The Magazine.