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Fall of the House of Zeus

November 11, 2010

Oxford resident and former William Morris agent Sam Haskell recently announced to Variety that he had purchased the rights to Oxford resident Curtis WIlkie’s book, “The Fall of The House of Zeus.”

Both men are friends with the subject of the book, Richard “Dickie” Scruggs the high profile attorney and also another Oxford resident whom was sentenced in June 2008 for trying to bribe a judge in a case involving legal fees.

“When I originally read the book, the story and the characters lept off the pages. So often today, good stories are lacking, and this is one great Mississippi story…a story that needs to become a film,” Haskell said. “This story is important to tell from a cinematic point of view because it deals with power, greed, redemption, heros, villains, and angels. Curtis Wilkie did a masterful job weaving over 30 major characters into a story that is reflective of our times. The story and plotline focuses on what I refer to as the “perfect storm” with not two sides, but four or five sides to reveal a piece of our lives with facts not known before. Diane Scruggs is one of the heroes of the story, and Dick and Diane’s son Zach, is at last, vindicated by the facts Curtis reveals in the book.”

Scruggs is no stranger the screen as he was characterized in the adaptation “The Insider,” and played by Colm Feore.

In the film, Feore plays Scruggs in the 1990s, as he was hired by Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore to assist with a lawsuit against thirteen tobacco companies. Settlement of the state’s case against the tobacco companies was for $248 billion. Scruggs himself, as well as his second home in Pascagoula, Mississippi, also appeared in the film.

Scruggs, the character tells the insider, played by Russell Crowe, in the film that he knows what he is facing about psychological, financial and emotional warfare.

“IIn the Navy I flew A-6’s off carriers. In combat, events have a duration of seconds, sometimes minutes. But what you’re going through goes on day in and day out. Whether you’re ready for it or not, week in, week out. Month after month after month. Whether you’re up or whether you’re down. You’re assaulted psychologically. You’re assaulted financially, which is its own special kind of violence because it’s directed at your kids. What school can you afford? How will that affect their lives? You’re asking yourself, “Will that limit what they may become?” You feel your whole family’s future’s compromised, held hostage. I do know how it is.”

Future of the film

Haskell intends to work on shopping the film to major studios with the intent to produce the film in various parts of Mississippi including Oxford, Canton, Jackson and the coast.

“It’s a Mississippi story, and it must be shot in Mississippi,” Scruggs said. “Once a studio deal is made, we will jointly agree on a screen writer and a director to start developing the film. I want Curtis to have a voice in this process, and I plan to ask others close to the story to work as consultants.”

Haskell is working with Mississippi Film Commissioner Ward Emling, Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant and US Congressman-Elect Alan Nunnelee to suggest additional legislation to make Mississippi’s film incentive and rebatge formula competitive with the Louisiana incentives.

“I think it is a fascinating story on so many levels, and I’m glad Sam is steering the course,” Emling said. “It’s in good capable hands with him. We look forward to working with him to bring the production to both fruition and to Mississippi.”

In Mississippi, films that have a budget of $20,000 to any budget can receive up to 20 percent rebate on their base investment plus 25 percent on local hires. There is currently an $8 million per project maximum and $20 million annual cap.

Louisiana has a 30 percent tax credit with an additional 5 percent labor credit and 25 percent for additional credits.  Most importantly, Louisiana has no caps other than the additional 5 percent is capped at $1 Million per individual which would mean someone living in Louisiana would have to be paid more than $10 million.

Looking ahead to film production

With such a broad story, Haskell said it will take work to focus the novel down to its adapted form. Haskell has two 18 month options, or a three year deal on the rights to the book in which he can work to sell the story to a studio.

“I love new challenges…they keep me motivated and creative. As the former Worldwide Head of Television for the William Morris Agency, and as Executive Producer of such projects as Mississippi Rising and the Miss America Pageant, I’ve always wanted to be involved in producing a film. Zeus will allow me to do just that, while creating jobs for Mississippians, and telling a Mississippi story that needs to be told,” Haskell said.


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