Can Laurence Fishburne Resurrect ‘The Alchemist’ Without a Major Backer?

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“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s famous line from his novel The Alchemist personifies Laurence Fishburne’s long pilgrimage to get a film adaptation of the book made.

However, his pilgrimage took a major detour on Monday.  According to Deadline.com, The Weinstein Company has placed the project into a 12-month turnaround, though at this time Laurence Fishburne has reacquired the rights.  This ends a seven year partnership between The Weinstein Company and Fishburne, who sold the rights to the company during the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.  The package included Fishburne producing and directing the film. It also came with a vow from Harvey Weinstein to see the film through to fruition.  Coelho even stated at the time, “I am very happy that my book will be filmed in the way I intended it to be and I hope the spirit and simplicity of my work will be preserved.  I am excited my friend Laurence Fishburne and Harvey Weinstein will be working together.”

Earlier this summer, it seemed the production machine kicked into gear after attaching Idris Elba to star.

Published in 1988, The Alchemist tells the story of a young shepherd boy named Santiago and his mission to find his Personal Legend.  A book about personal journey and spiritual awakening, The Alchemist bridged gaps across different cultures.  The Alchemist has been translated into 56 different languages and has sold over 65 million copies worldwide. It has earned the distinction of being the most translated work by a living author.

That being said, this film’s biggest obstacle has been its budget.  It has run the gamut from $60-$100 million.  After acquiring the rights from Warner Bros., Fishburne reportedly sought financing from members of the Abu Dhabi’s royal family.  Given the Middle Eastern setting of the novel, it is an ideal location, and thanks to recent Hollywood productions being made in the region, it’s now a feasible option.  It’s not only the best play to get financing while maintaining the necessary control Fishburne needs to tell a faithful adaptation,  it’s also the best way to offset the steep input cost already invested into the project.  Another option in helping raise the necessary capital is teaming with Paulo Coelho.

After selling the film rights in 1994 to Warner Bros. for $250,000, Coelho was able to raise $2 million to buy them back but his offer was rebuffed.  His literary profile has surged into living legend status, and his presence as producer will help preserve the story’s core themes and integrity.  In today’s film financing climate, anything that cannot be created into a franchise isn’t going to fly too far, no matter the project’s prestige.

Though beloved, The Alchemist isn’t a traditional book—it’s an epic journey.  The Life of Pi is the best example of what this type of film aspires to look like.  While difficult, Laurence Fishburne’s continued attachment is important in achieving a correct adaptation and now, hopefully finds financing without studio interference.

As being witnessed right now with Gods of Egypt, when a major studio is in control, faithfulness to material and cast diversity are the last things taken into consideration.

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