Exclusive: Hollywood producer David Franzoni to rewrite Sheikh Zayed biopic script

The 'Gladiator' co-producer and co-writer will base his script on an original version by Cliff Dorfman of 'Entourage' fame

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STX Film's in-production biopic of Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the UAE, is to benefit from a script rewrite by Oscar-winning Gladiator screenwriter David Franzoni.

The movie's original script was penned by Entourage screenwriter Cliff Dorfman, and an STX representative confirmed to The National that the rewrite is not a sign of problems with Dorfman or his script, but rather a part of the "typical" Hollywood process of drafting several versions before shooting commences.

"David will be basing his new draft off of the first draft written by Cliff Dorfman. When the project first was announced, we drew parallels to Ghandi, Selma and Darkest Hours as tonally and comparatively the kind of film we envision for this." STX said.

Shekhar Kapur, who directed Elizabeth: The Golden Age, remains on direction duties.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 11:  Shekhar Kapur during a portrait session at the 10th Annual Dubai International Film Festival held at the Madinat Jumeriah Complex on December 11, 2013 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for DIFF)
Shekhar Kapur will direct the Sheikh Zayed biopic. Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images

STX films is one of Hollywood's most successful indie studios, and recent successes include The Foreigner, with Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan; A Bad Moms Christmas, starring Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn; the Academy Award-nominated Molly's Game, starring Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba; Den of Thieves with Gerard Butler and Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson; and I Feel Pretty, starring Amy Schumer.

It is currently unknown whether or not the movie will be filmed in the UAE, or if local talent, actors or crew will take part in shooting.

Some local filmmakers did express reservations when the movie was first announced.

Award-winning Emirati filmmaker Amal Al Agroobi has been trying to get a Sheikh Zayed biopic off the ground in the UAE for some time, but has so far failed to secure funding. The filmmaker told The National that she is, overall, positive about the newly announced film, although she also expressed dismay that it should fall to Hollywood to tell one of the Arab region's most fascinating stories.

“This seems to be the trend in the UAE," she said. "We consistently allow the West to tell our narrative, dictate our structure, solidify our history while we sit back and watch."

STX Film's chairman and chief executive Robert Simonds was keen to allay such concerns at the time. "We are in great hands with Bafta-winning director Shekhar Kapur, whose beautiful work with historic dramas, such as Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, about England's Queen Elizabeth I, were globally well received."

Kapur's work on those two films won him two Oscars, a Bafta for Best Film and numerous other award nominations, and Simonds clearly thinks the new film could follow a similar trajectory. "We believe Sheikh Zayed's story has the potential to garner Academy Award attention along the lines of what Gandhi and Darkest Hour achieved," he added.

There are still no firm dates for release of the new movie or a shooting schedule, although the representative revealed that casting details should be released “soon”.

The studio's current 2019 schedule includes the coming Best of Enemies (April 5), UglyDolls (May3), Poms (May 10) and 17 Bridges (July 12).