EXCLUSIVE: JD Payne and Patrick McKay, the creator-EPs behind Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Powerhave set up their 2017 Black List screenplay Escape with The Hideaway Entertainment (Cherry), tapping James Watkins (AMC+’s upcoming The Ipcress File, The Woman in Black) to direct.
The action-adventure pic is inspired by the true story of convicts Robert Greenhill and Alexander Pearce, and their sensational journey of survival after escaping from prison, which scandalized the Victorian-era world. While the story has previously inspired songs, works of fiction and non-fiction, news articles, tall tales, art, illustrations and other printed materials, it has never before been adapted as a large-scale feature film.
When the wrongly-accused Greenhill is shipped to the harshest Tasmanian penal colony in the 1820s, he quickly realizes his only chance of survival is to partner with the notorious murderer Pearce and five other hardened criminals in order to escape. Now on the run in the treacherous wilds, their epic adventure takes darker and more dangerous as Greenhill slowly realizes he may have allied with a force more evil than he suspected.
Payne and McKay will produce the film under their 10:40pm Productions banner, with Jonathan Gray, Matthew Rhodes and Kristy Grisham for The Hideaway Entertainment. The Hideaway’s Ryan Cassells is exec producing. Grisham, who serves as the company’s SVP of Development & Production will oversee the project on their behalf, with CAA Media Finance handling world sales.
“We came across this incredible true-life story years ago; it captured our imaginations and has stayed with us ever since,” said Payne and McKay in a joint statement. “We are beyond thrilled to be partnering with director James Watkins and our friends at The Hideaway to bring it to the screen at last.”
“From The Revenant to Captain Philips, Gravity to Deliverance, I’ve always loved survival movies: how, in our age of anxiety, they showcase the power of human resilience and resourcefulness,” said Watkins. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Payne & McKay and the incredibly supportive team at The Hideaway: to ESCAPE together and hopefully take audiences with us on a white-knuckle ride into the wild.”
“Payne and McKay have done a masterful job creating complex characters that go on an unbelievable and epic adventure,” added Rhodes of The Hideaway Entertainment. “This paired with James’ authentic approach to storytelling set in a stunning landscape deep in the wilderness of Tasmania is a cinematic journey for global audiences. We are thrilled to be partnering with these visionaries and bringing this story to life.”
Longtime creative partners Payne and McKay have collaborated on more than 20 screenplays, including uncredited work on Star Trek III for producer JJ Abrams, as well as Jungle Cruise for Disney, and Godzilla vs. Kong for Legendary, with additional film and TV projects set up at Sony, Warner Bros., Legendary, 20th Century Fox, Paramount and Disney. The pair recently wrapped production on Season 1 of Amazon’s anticipated Lord of the Rings series, The Rings of Powerwhich is slated to premiere on September 2.
Watkins has just completed showrunning and directing the anticipated ’60s spy thriller series The Ipcress File, starring Joe Cole and Lucy Boynton, for AMC+. He also directed the episode “Shut Up and Dance” for Netflix’s Black Mirrorand co-created and directed the International Emmy-winning crime drama McMafia for Amazon, which gave a name to a new “McMafia law” in the UK. Watkins’ feature credits include the action-thriller The Take, starring Idris Elba and Richard Madden, which topped charts on Netflix; and the chilling Victorian ghost story The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe, which became the most successful British horror film in two decade upon its release. Watkins made his feature directorial debut with the award-winning cult thriller Eden Lake and began his career as a screenwriter with a first-look writing deal with Working Title Films. He has also written scripts for Film4, Pathe, BBC Films and Warner Bros.
The Hideaway Entertainment is an entertainment media company, developing, producing and financing films, television and digital content, which entrepreneur and CEO Jonathan Gray founded in 2017, with veteran producer Rhodes as President. The production company recently co-financed and produced Anthony and Joe Russo’s drama, Cherry, starring Tom Holland and Ciara Bravo, for Apple TV+. It recently announced that it is producing MGM’s action-drama Combat Controldirected by Sam Hargrave (Extraction franchise) and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as the drama Freedom Ride, based on first-person accounts of the original freedom riders, including the late civil rights icon and US Congressman, John Lewis. The Hideaway launched its television division with the limited series For Those I Lovedbased on Martin Gray and Max Gallo’s book of the same name.
The Hideaway also co-financed and exec produced Sony’s sci-fi action pic Bloodshot, based on the hit Valiant comic book series of the same name; Sony’s Men in Black: International, from director F. Gary Gray; and STX Entertainment’s action movie Mile 22directed by Peter Berg.
The Hideaway Entertainment’s deal for Escape was brokered by CAA and attorneys Christian Simonds of Reed Smith and Lisbeth Savill at Latham & Watkins. Payne and McKay are represented by Verve, Kaplan/Perrone and attorney Barry Littman at Hansen, Jacobson, Teller; Watkins by UK Agent Natasha Galloway of United Agents and WME.