EXCLUSIVE: James Schamus has committed to direct College Republicans, a fact-inspired Dirty Rotten Scoundrels-style coming of age story about top Republican operatives. Logan Lerman has been set to star as a young Lee Atwater, Asa Butterfield as Karl Rove and Kristine Froseth to play Kate King — a composite character who threatens their dreams of glory.
Wes Jones, a writer/producer in the early seasons of Billions, wrote the script that has first made itself known when it topped the Black List in 2010. Likely Story’s Anthony Bregman, The Black List’s Franklin Leonard, Symbolic Exchange’s Schamus and Likely Story’s Peter Cron are producing. Jones and Ken Freimann are exec producers.
Production will begin next spring or summer and the financing and distribution are mobilizing, with CAA Media Finance arranging the financing and repping distribution rights. The film is set in the Summer of 1973, as America witnesses the dirtiest election in its history – for the chairmanship of the national College Republicans club. Young Karl Rove embarks with his not-to-be-trusted campaign manager Lee Atwater on a backroom vote-getting – and vote-stealing – road trip through the South. Among the future Republican titans they form uneasy alliances with — and betray whenever convenient — include Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Jeff Sessions. But when Atwater meets his duplicitous match in a beautiful young Republican operative, their dreams of victory bring them all too close to humiliating, career-ending defeat.
The film is based on Jones’s meticulous research, and tells the darkly comic origin story of the modern GOP and the young opportunists who ended up, years later, reshaping the political landscape. Whether for better or worse depends on your own political leanings.
Schamus told Deadline he had long been interested in the script and when it came back around, he looked carefully at the writer’s research, and realized that composite names for some of the key Republicans were now relevant. They were restored. “They were nobodies, but then you realize, that’s Paul Manafort? Roger Stone? Put those names back in,” he said.
Celebrated for writing The Ice Storm, producing Brokeback Mountain and serving as CEO of Focus Features and co-founder of Good Machine, Schamus made his directorial debut on Indignation. An adaptation of the Philip Roth novel, the film starred Lerman and it premiered at Sundance in 2016 and was released by Roadside Attractions. His Symbolic Exchange separately produced the indie films Driveways, Adam and The Assistant, latter of which Froseth co-starred in.