Developing for at least a decade, and previously in the hands of the late Tony Scott, Fox's biopic of Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club has now landed with Entourage writer-producer Scott Weiss. "We're approaching this as a genesis story of the motorcycle club culture," says Weiss. "I've wanted to do something in the biker space for a long time."
The film will cover a time period between the late 1950s and the early 1970s, with Barger at the centre. It will be, says Weiss, "a period piece that explores the early days of the Hells Angels; the philosophy of the formidable, most loyal brotherhood that started it; and what drove Sonny, who had the leadership and the vision to expand the club amid almost unsurmountable obstacles like rival clubs and law enforcement."
Barger has himself written several books, both autobiographical and more general credos of life on two wheels. He's also a key figure in Hunter S. Thompson's Hells Angels and Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, so there's plenty of material to draw from. The Hells Angels own the copyright to all their logos and imagery, however, so if Weiss and co. plan to keep things visually accurate they'll need the infamous MC's involvement and approval.
That has led to some concern that the film will be a whitewashed portrait of the Hells Angels as a band of noble outlaws and merry pranksters, ignoring their darker side (they're officially designated an organised crime syndicate by the US Department of Justice). But given that time period, it's hard to imagine that the film can possibly avoid the Angels' notorious stint as the Rolling Stones' security in Altamont in 1969, which ended in chaos, violence and death.
"Sonny's life is a metaphor for the wild ride that is set against a very shifting America," says Weiss, reflecting on an era that saw the rise of the hippy peace-and-love movement but ended with Vietnam and the Manson Family. Weiss will co-write the film with actor Jeffrey Santos, and also direct. There's no start date or cast so far.