Among the many movie deals in the works about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, including Assange’s own story based on the book he was paid 1.5 million for, a new player emerges. Dream Works Studio will soon be bringing you their version of the Assange WikiLeaks story. If Julian doesn’t get his book done soon (and it doesn’t look like he’s going to), Dream Works will be telling his story and like Mark Zuckerberg he probably won’t like the way that it goes.
Dream Works has acquired rights to two Assange books: Crown‘s Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website by former Wiki exec Daniel Domscheit-Berg — you know, the guy who left over the document dump — and the Guardian published WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, written by David Leigh and Luke Harding, the two UK Guardian journalists who helped Assange with his initial leaks.
Nikki Finke reported exclusively yesterday:
“I’m told that DreamWorks executives from Stacey Snider, Steve Spielberg to co-presidents Holly Bario and Mark Sourian, are intrigued enough by the Assange story to cobble together rights that will allow them to attack the story creatively from any of several angles. They are content to gather string, but haven’t hired a writer yet. A good template for what they are thinking is The Social Network, where Oscar-winning scribe Aaron Sorkin not only used the Ben Mezrich book The Accidental Billionaires as a resource, but gathered actual testimony from the lawsuits filed against Mark Zuckerberg that detailed the formation of Facebook and provided high drama. That allowed the film to be made without a rights deal from Zuckerberg.”
This morning, CNN Marquee Blog reports, “Spokesperson Chip Sullivan says the Steven Spielberg-owned studio is ‘nurturing’ the WikiLeaks material and will decide what to do with it. Sullivan added, ‘There are still chapters to be written in this story, and while it continues to evolve, so will our development of the film.'”
Translation, they bought up the rights to the books so they could Zuckerberg Julian; in other words, tell his story without a rights deal from Assange. The difference is that while Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) wanted to change several facts regarding his story (a request ignored), he wasn’t pushing his own version in the marketplace while Assange clearly intended to own his personal narrative via his book deal with film rights.
The Social Network has been accused of being high on story but low on facts. Zuckerberg was heard lamenting early in the process, “I just wished that nobody made a movie of me while I was still alive.” While Zuckerberg craved privacy and Assange does not (except over the police reports regarding alleged sexual abuse charges), they share the desire to have their side of the story told and to be portrayed accurately rather than sacrificed for story. Luckily, in the end, Zuckerberg seems to have come to terms with the way he was portrayed, even appearing on SNL with the actor who played him.
Something that Hollywood shares with the world of politics the race to capture the narrative. As we watch the Julian Assange story unfold with all of its nuance, confusion, leaks and secret agendas, we can’t know the truth. But imagine if you were Assange. Would you want Dream Works telling your story based on books about you? If a studio gets their version of Assange’s story to screens first, it will most likely be a successful venture for the corporations making the film – but accuracy will be sacrificed for drama, as it always is in fictionalized accounts of real stories.
Maybe Julian Assange’s own story would be just as inaccurate, as it’s nearly impossible to be cleanly objective when telling your own story as seen through the lens of your personal experience, but when making a story about living people, there’s a part of me that laments the loss of privacy and dignity afforded to unintentional public figures. Assange and Zuckerberg aren’t movie stars or celebrities, these are business owners and activists, though one could argue that Assange has always wanted to be a celebrity. Still, the ethics involved in making a movie about a living person without their input reeks of exploitation.
We have no idea how Dream Works or any other studio will choose to handle Julian Assange’s story, but one thing we do know is that the need for a driving narrative will prevail, and if that narrative is stronger by making the lead into a worse or better person than they actually are, they will.
Whether or not one agrees with Assange’s choices and WikiLeaks mission or thinks him guilty or innocent of the charges levied against him, the notion that corporations will profit off of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks is a huge slap in the face to their entire stated purpose.