For 15 years, Hollywood has tried and failed to transform the bestselling novel "The Alchemist" into silver screen material. Now Harvey Weinstein says he has the magic formula.
Weinstein said Sunday that he will produce Paulo Coelho's inspirational fable about a Spanish shepherd on a quixotic quest. Actor Laurence Fishburne ("The Matrix"), already attached to the project, will direct and star as the title character, who guides the shepherd along his way. Shooting will start about a year from now.
"The book is simple and spiritual, and the screenplay will reflect that," Weinstein said at the Cannes Film Festival.
Warner Bros. previously held the movie rights to the book. Weinstein said screenwriters working on the stalled project over the years have sometimes tried to add bombast to the tale, like putting in battle sequences with 10,000 soldiers.
"That's not what the book is about," he said. "It's not 'Genghis Khan.' "
Coelho said in a statement released by the Weinstein Co., "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."
Speaking by video message, Fishburne said the deal to adapt the Brazilian writer's novel was "a dream come true" for him. The book tells the story of Santiago, a Spanish shepherd who dreams of finding a treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. He embarks on his quest, falls in love and learns life lessons along the way.
"The Alchemist" has sold more than 30 million copies around the world since it was published 20 years ago. Back in fashion, it's currently on the New York Times top 10 list of paperback trade fiction.
The Weinstein Co. said teams would search Spain and Latin America for actors to play Santiago and his love interest. The budget is $60 million and up.
Usually an executive producer, Weinstein said he would take time out from running his company to personally produce "The Alchemist." He did the same with "Shakespeare in Love," which won seven Academy Awards in 1999, including best picture.
Weinstein said he wasn't worried that plans to make the film had long languished.
"Over the years I have been very lucky with that," he said. "Sometimes others have had a project, and they didn't get it done. For 10 years, 'Shakespeare in Love' sat in Universal, and then we bought it."
The Weinstein name has been attached to award-winning films including "The English Patient," "Good Will Hunting" and "Chicago." But since Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob left Miramax in 2005 to form the Weinstein Co., they have yet to match their past Academy Awards successes.
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