Soldiers walk after 12 soccer players and their coach were rescued near Tham Luang cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai
By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The dramatic rescue of a Thai boys soccer team and their coach from a flooded cave complex this week transfixed news viewers around the world for more than two weeks, and the story is already headed for a retelling by Hollywood.
Divers freed the last four of the 12 boys and their adult coach on Tuesday.
The saga is reminiscent of the 2010 rescue of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for 69 days, a tale that was turned into the 2015 movie "The 33" starring Antonio Banderas.
Two production companies are now looking to put together movies about the Thai soccer team rescue.
Thailand’s Navy, whose SEAL unit led the rescue, and the Thai government have selected Ivanhoe Pictures to develop a film that would be directed by John M. Chu, the president of Ivanhoe Pictures, John Penotti, said in a statement.
Ivanhoe Pictures, which has offices in the United States and in Asia, focuses on Asia and North America. It is the co-producer of the upcoming film "Crazy Rich Asians," based on the novel by Kevin Kwan and directed by Chu.
"I refuse to let Hollywood #whitewashout the Thai Cave rescue story!" Chu, who was born in California and has Chinese heritage, tweeted.
"There’s a beautiful story abt human beings saving other human beings. So anyone thinking abt the story better approach it right & respectfully," added Chu.
The other company looking to develop a movie on the event is U.S.-based Pure Flix, which specializes in Christian and family films.
Pure Flix co-founder Michael Scott, who lives in Thailand part of the year, said producers from his company were on the ground interviewing rescue workers for a potential film. He said his wife grew up with Samarn Poonan, the former Thai navy SEAL who died during the mission.
"It's Thai, Westerners, Europeans, Aussies - people from all over the world who helped bring these kids to safety," Scott told Reuters. "I think there is a worldwide appeal which I think will inspire millions across the globe."
Like the Chilean rescue, the Thai drama showcases real-life courage in the face of harrowing circumstances, said Mike Medavoy, the Oscar-nominated producer of "The 33."
"It's about the triumphs of individuals and groups of human beings over tragedy," Medavoy said. "It's a terrific story."
Bringing the Thai drama to the screen faces hurdles, however.
First, filmmakers need to secure the rights from each of the boys' families, the coach, and any rescuers they want to portray in order to get their firsthand accounts of what happened. The boys range in age from 11 to 16.
And replicating the rescue on screen could be costly.
"The 33" was filmed in Colombia and Chile and produced for about $24 million. A movie about the Thai rescue could be made for less, Medavoy said, because filming in Thailand is cheaper.
But the rescue in murky water presents an added challenge.
"The water and scuba diving scenes would be expensive," said Judi Farkas, the literary agent who represented author Antonio Mendez on the film rights sale of his book "Argo" for the Oscar-winning movie. "Any time you film in water it's expensive."
In addition, a big-screen production likely would take years to bring to theatres, and producers would have to decide if interest will remain once the story fades from the headlines, Medavoy said.
"The 33" brought in $24.9 million at theatres worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, just slightly more than its production budget.
The Thai rescue may also draw interest from TV networks, which could provide a quicker path to the screen.
In the meantime, news programming is feeding public appetite for the story.
On Tuesday, U.S. television network ABC aired a special edition of "20/20" focused on the mission, and the Discovery Channel announced it would air a one-hour documentary on Friday.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; in Chiang Rai, Thailand; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)