EXCLUSIVE: Four-time Emmy- and two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy will make her narrative feature directorial debut on Brilliance, the Paramount Pictures adaptation of the Marcus Sakey novel. Pic has been a passion project for Will Smith and Akiva Goldsman who did I, Robot, I Am Legend and Hancock together. The hope remains that the film is a star vehicle for Smith, though sources said he hasn’t committed to star. Goldsman wrote the script.
Obaid-Chinoy is best known for directing her Oscar-winning documentary shorts Saving Face and A Girl in the River, The Price of Forgiveness and most recently Ms Marvel. Smith is producing via his company Westbrook Studios with Jon Mone and Ryan Shimazaki. Goldsman and Greg Lessans are producing via Weed Road Pictures, along with Shane Salerno via The Story Factory, and James Lassiter. The author is co-producer.
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The premise: If 1% of the world’s children were born with powerful gifts, how would society adapt to them? The Brilliance novel trilogy is set in a future where non-neurotypical people — demonized by society as “twists” or “abnorms” — are threatening the status quo of the “normal” population with their unique gifts. They are officially labeled as “Brilliants” and are carefully tracked by the government. The plan is for Smith to play the book series hero Nick Cooper, a federal agent who works for the Department of Analysis and Response. His job is to track down and terminate criminal abnorms who use their gifts for ill. The agent is himself an abnorm, with a gift for predictive analysis that allows him to see what will happen before it happens and react preemptively. He is also the father of a Brilliant daughter.
As he infiltrates a radical group of Brilliants who plan to incite a civil war, he uses his own gifts against his Brilliant enemies, like an assassin who perceives time faster than his opponents. When Cooper is ordered to hunt down John Smith — the country’s most elusive and most dangerous abnorm — everything Cooper believes in will be called into question. As one of the abnorms he’s hunting tells him, “You can’t stop the future. All you can do is pick a side.”
Sakey has since published the sequel novels A Better World and Written in Fire, and the Amazon-published book series has sold nearly 2 million.
Smith hasn’t made a film since the infamous Oscar slap incident earlier this year that happened before he won the Best Actor prize and was subsequently banned by the Academy for a decade. He next stars in Emancipation, playing a hunted runaway enslaved man who struggles to freedom in the dangerous swamps of Louisiana in the Antoine Fuqua-directed fact-based thriller. While the press is already scrutinizing what Apple will do with the film and whether Smith’s controversy will hobble what might have been a prohibitive Oscar favorite, sources said Apple is determining a release date for that film for December or early 2023.
As for Smith, real movie stars are rare. While their fortunes can ebb and flow, the top ones have a way of coming back, especially when the movie is good and this is said to be a career high point for Fuqua. This side of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, none has been more successful over the past two decades on a global scale than Smith.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is repped by CAA and Fox Rothschild.
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