The story of GameStop’s rise and fall in the stock market doesn't have an ending yet, but there’s already a war being waged in Hollywood over who will be the one to tell it. There are at least two movies in the works about the saga, according to Deadline: one at MGM, which just bought the rights to a book proposal about GameStop from Ben Mezrich, whose work has been adapted into films like 21 and The Social Network; and another at Netflix, which is reportedly in talks with Noah Centineo to star and Mark Boal (the screenwriter behind Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker) to pen the script. It doesn't stop there, according to Charles Randolph, who co-wrote The Big Short. He told the Los Angeles Times he's gotten several calls asking if he'd be interested in writing a movie about GameStop.
"There’s already a lot of activity around this," Randolph told the LA Times. "I’m going to guess there’s probably six serious, active projects."
It might seem ludicrous that Hollywood is sprinting to make a movie about something that happened just last week and hasn't even finished unfolding. You'd imagine that studios would at least wait until the story is over before they started working on a film about it. But according to industry veterans who spoke with VICE, that's not an option. There might be six GameStop movies "in the works," but realistically, there's only room in this world for one of them. If a studio doesn't stake their claim on the story now, one of their competitors will.
"If you're going after something like this—that's hot, and has worldwide attention—you've got to move fast," said Joe Pichirallo, a producer, former executive at Fox Searchlight, and professor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. "If you wait, and other people move ahead of you, then you're going to be frozen out.”
Netflix, MGM, and other studios interested in making a GameStop movie are scrambling to be the first to start developing it, and to scare off their competition. They do that by locking down top-tier talent as quickly as possible—and then, crucially, spreading the word, according to Tom Nunan, a producer, former executive at NBC, and lecturer at the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. Netflix seems to be doing just that: Now that everyone in Hollywood knows the streamer is reportedly working with Boal and Centineo, other studios interested in making a GameStop movie are less likely to pursue it.
"These announcements are designed, generally, to plant a stake in the ground, and to kill off other projects," Nunan said. "If you were to call me next week and say, 'I want to do a GameStop movie,' I'd say, 'Yeah, but you know this guy Noah's starring in it, Netflix is already making it—I don't think we should fuck with it.' It has a cooling effect that just works."
According to Nunan, Netflix probably hasn't signed a contract with Boal yet, and it's unlikely they've formally gotten Centineo to confirm he'll star in their movie. It could be weeks, if not months, before the streamer officially inks a deal with either of them. But even a verbal commitment from two big names like that could be enough to quash Netflix's competition.
And a company like Netflix could get that commitment in an instant, according to Michael Taylor, a producer, former executive at United Artists, and professor at USC's School of Cinematic Arts. In "one phone call," Taylor said, an executive could get Boal to agree to write the script. In another, a producer involved in the project could pitch it to Centineo, and convince him to attach his name to it. In just one day, Taylor said, "everything could have been tied up."
"It may be that it takes months for a contract to actually be completed," Taylor said. "But it takes a minute for an email to be exchanged which basically closes the deal. I can't tell you, when I was a studio executive, how many deals were made over the phone, or in a deal memo that was one paragraph long."
Netflix may be winning the battle to secure big-name talent, but that's only one front in this war, according to Pichirallo. It's equally important to snatch up rights related to the GameStop story, something MGM is already doing. As it stands, the studio has only acquired the rights to Mezrich's book proposal. But they could have their eyes on the life rights of Keith Gill, the redditor who spearheaded the push to buy GameStop stock and made millions doing it. According to Deadline, he hasn't yet sold them—but if he does, the buyer will get to work with Gill exclusively, legally barring him from speaking with their competitors.
"You'd want to get that person's rights if you could, and he could be a character you'd build a story around," Pichirallo said. "You try to tie up key figures, or a book, so that it makes it harder for other competitors to do the same story."
If Netflix and MGM both decide to move forward with their GameStop projects, they'll find themselves locked in what is, essentially, an extremely expensive game of chicken. Both will have to commission a script, which—from a writer like Boal—will cost them anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million, according to Nunan. They'll have to sign contracts with directors, producers, and actors, all of whom will need to be paid at least part of their fees before they begin work on the project. All the while, executives at both studios will have to calculate whether it's worth continuing to spend money on a movie about something they know their rival is actively pursuing. If they're not on track to release their film first—or if they think it simply won't be as good as their competitor's—they might abandon it. That could happen at any time, for any number of reasons, Pichirallo said.
"If one of them senses that the other project is going into production and is going to be ready before them, that could be a factor," Pichirallo said. "If the other project has bigger-name actors, or a bigger-name director, if [Mezrich's] book becomes a best-seller, that could be a factor. Agents will be reading the scripts for clients [asked] to be in these movies, and our world is very gossip-focused. If word gets out that Netflix's script is super-better than MGMs, then that will be a factor."
Perhaps, a few months from now, one of these two studios will throw in the towel. But it's possible that neither backs down, and they both make a movie about the same thing. As ridiculous as that might seem, it's happened countless times over the years: Antz and A Bug's Life both came out in 1998; The Prestige and The Illusionist both came out in 2006. If MGM and Netflix find themselves in that position, they'll race to be the first to release their film, Nunan said.
"If you know that there's someone out there going full bore, you want to be there first," Nunan said. "The first [movie] is the one that audiences seem to remember the most, and seems to perform the best. You're not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a script, or hundreds of thousands of dollars to lock up talent like Noah, to come in second."
Just as likely as MGM and Netflix both making a GameStop movie, Pichirallo said, is the possibility that neither of them do. For every 20 films a given studio has in development, "only two or three" actually get made, he said. Either studio could axe its GameStop movie if they don't like the script they receive, or their director drops out, or their star gets tied up in other projects. There's also a chance that by the time MGM or Netflix is ready to start shooting, no one cares about the GameStop saga anymore. At that point, perhaps the world will have moved on to some other big piece of news, kicking off yet another war in Hollywood over a story that—as has happened all too often—might never even be made into a movie.
"Outsiders often ascribe a lot of wisdom and strategy to decision-makers in Hollywood," Nunan said. "They would be wise to check that instinct, because frankly, it often is more like the behavior of a bunch of drunken pirates, who are just kind of moving from one shiny object to the next."
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