Hollywood has found a goldmine of material in the work of journalist David Grann


Hollywood's latest major star isn't a teen queen or Brad Pitt's prodigy. It's quite possible you won't have heard of him and it's very possible that you won't see him in front of the camera any time soon. In fact, you probably won't see him behind the camera, in the director's chair or writing a script. He's about to become a Hollywood star without having, as far as I can see, much to do with Hollywood. Meet David Grann; journalist, author, 47 year-old New Yorker writer with five Hollywood projects in development, all being circled by the likes of Matt Damon, James Gray and Robert Pattinson. Meet the next Hollywood star.

Grann's new-found popularity in Hollywood can be explained in two words: great stories. His two published books so far - the feature length The Lost City Of Z and collection of writing The Devil And Sherlock Holmes - are both full of compelling narrative non-fiction, a kind of journalism on the edge of being Gonzo. Grann's approach is like that of a sneaky Hollywood director, revealing facts to the reader at just the right time in the story to give them the biggest amount of dramatic impetus. Sometimes Grann himself is a key character, such as in The Lost City Of Z, when he plunges into the Amazon jungle, at other times he's an omnipresent narrator.

There's also a wealth of material published only in article form for The New Yorker. In A Murder Foretold, arguably his best work but not a story that features in The Devil And Sherlock Holmes, Grann hits on a truly incredible story. Following up on the murder of a lawyer in Guatemala, Grann unravels a real life political conspiracy with twists that would make M. Night Shyamalan reconsider his career. The article is beautifully written, the story amazing. Be warned if you do decide to read it though: the film adaptation is coming, with a script from Argo writer Chris Terrio. The last word on it was that it was to be Matt Damon's first directing gig, although that seems to have fallen by the wayside.

If A Murder Foretold is Grann at his most sensationalistic, then The Lost City Of Z shows that he can write around big human themes as well. There's no real answer in Grann's narrative as to what happened to Victorian adventurer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon jungle whilst hunting for the lost city of Eldorado, but that doesn't mean Grann's adventure, and his retelling of Fawcett's isn't compelling. Just what is it that drives us to embark on battling quests, even if we might know they are destined for failure? Fawcett's quest might be in the middle of the jungle, but Grann successfully draws parallels with pretty much any endeavour at the heart of human nature. Much delayed, the version with James Gray as director and Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Pattison heading the cast was being talked about as happening as recently as May.

Other works from Grann that are currently being developed in some way shape or form include The Old Man And The Gun, about arguably the world's most successful, and oldest, bank robber. Robert Redford was attached to star in 2013, casting which is pretty much as perfect as it could be, short of being able to get Clint Eastwood ten years ago. Trial By Fire is a slightly less compelling Grann story, though nonetheless important, covering several botched fire investigations, at least one of which may have led to an incorrect execution.

The sudden noticing of Grann as a storyteller worthy of Hollywood's attention has only been put on hold somewhat because of the industry's bizarre inability to get films based on his works made. It's tempting to say that that is evidence of the Hollywood's unwillingness to tell old-style stories; non-franchise, with a beating character heart and something to say. You suspect that many of these films may fall into the budget gap that has been talked about for a few years now: the $10-$25 million budget range that the studios see as difficult to make a return on. That may well be the reality, but with several stories in The Devil And Sherlock Holmes alone still available for optioning, you suspect Hollywood won't get away with keeping Grann in development hell for very much longer.



By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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