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AMERICAN GANGSTER

About The Production
"My company sells a product that's better than the competition at a price that's lower than the competition.” —Frank Lucas

The legend of heroin smuggler/family man/death dealer/civic leader Frank Lucas was first chronicled seven years ago in a New York Magazine article by journalist Mark Jacobson. In 2000, executive producer Nicholas Pileggi—who co-wrote the screenplays for Goodfellas and Casino with Martin Scorsese—introduced Jacobson to Lucas, thus beginning a journey in which Lucas recounted his outrageous rise and fall to the journalist. From watching his cousin murdered by the KKK in La Grange, North Carolina, to earning mind-boggling figures in drug sales to facing a lifetime in prison, Lucas had one stunner of a true tale.

Jacobson's subsequent "The Return of Superfly” unfolded the complex story of a desperately poor sharecropper who moved to Harlem and slowly bypassed the usual suspects of its burgeoning heroin scene to rule a New York City empire. Through selling a purer product at a cheaper price to thousands of addicts in the Vietnam-era streets, Lucas amassed a fortune calculated in the tens of millions—and the eventual attention of the law. Had he not been pushing an illegal, deadly substance new to this country, Lucas would have assuredly been celebrated as one of the keenest businessmen of the decade, if not the century, for his family-run enterprise.

Growing up penniless in a small Southern town, Lucas arrived in New York in 1946 as a self-described "different sonofabitch.” For two decades, he worked side-by-side with Ellsworth "Bumpy” Johnson (the inspiration for the black godfather of the '70s Shaft films), serving as the kingpin's right-hand man until Johnson's death in 1968— tutored in the ways of gangsters like Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano. And upon Johnson's death, Lucas seized the reins. He changed the name of the game to the hot new import heroin and immediately put his stamp on the city—with a gun to the head of anyone who dared challenge him.

Fascinated by Jacobson's article, Academy Award®-winning producer Brian Grazer optioned the project for Imagine Entertainment and met with Pileggi and Lucas to discuss the gangster's exploits. Many of Grazer's recent celebrated films have been inspired by real-life subjects overcoming the seemingly insurmountable—from 8 Mile and Friday Night Lights to A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man. Grazer viewed Lucas' story as a metaphor for the greediness of white-collar capitalism and had, admittedly, never heard anything quite like it.

Grazer was fascinated by the cautionary tale of a man with "the dream of corporate America who found a way to make a deal with individuals in Southeast Asia that could lead him to the highest grade of heroin.” He continues, "After he had this heroin, he would make a deal with U.S. military officers to import it in body bags of U.S. soldiers traveling from Vietnam back into America [the so-called Cadaver Connection]. I thought that was a remarkable, inescapable and interesting idea.” The producer would take this option and turn to veteran screenwriter Steven Zaillian to pen a script based on Lucas' life.

Oscar® winner Zaillian—responsible for such landmark cinematic interpretations as Steven Spielberg's directorial masterpiece Schindler's List and Martin Scorsese's lauded Gangs of New York—would spend months with Lucas and his former pursuer (now retained attorney) Richie Roberts to give shape to their improbable tale that spanned decades. Zaillian would also become fascinated with the unlikely relationship between this multimillionaire thug/entrepreneur and this complicated cop-turned prosecutor.

He was certain to weave a shattering parable that didn't just dramatize Lucas' rise and fall but told of the juxtaposed path of his chief tracker and nemesis. Roberts, who spent t

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