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If you want to be in the movies — a business enterprise short on rules and precedents but wide open to opportunity for those with zealous confidence — it helps to be a lawyer. Even better, in the case of John Sarason Saroff and Michael Bogner, it helps to be a two-man legal team determined to bring a tale of lawyerly heroics to a big-screen audience. “Look at the people running media, movies included, and you see they’re almost all lawyers,” said Bogner. “Law is the most applicable [motion picture] career path there is.” Accordingly, Saroff and Bogner, both 27 and students at Columbia Law School, recently nailed a development deal with New Line Cinema to co-produce a film based on the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. Known in Hollywood as “Untitled Jack Greenberg Project,” their movie centers on the life of their own law professor when he was himself 27 — the notoriously modest Greenberg. The script will be drawn from the professor’s 1994 book, “Crusaders in the Courts: How a Dedicated Band of Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution,” republished earlier this month for the 50th anniversary of Brown. “Why would anybody want to do a movie about me? I’m not exciting enough,” Greenberg said in an interview. “I’m just a lawyer. I did my thing.” His students think larger. “It’s the kind of story that needs to endure,” said Saroff, a third-year student. Referring to Greenberg and his colleagues on the Brown plaintiff team assembled by the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall during his time as general counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, he added, “We feel historical responsibility. Their story is full of drama. It’s educational, it’s incredible, it’s cinematic and — oh, the characters!” The germ of the film project began last term when Bogner was studying at the Arthur W. Diamond law library on campus. Nose raised momentarily from his books, he stared at the library’s focal point: a collage of black-and-white newspaper photos and headlines from a half-century ago recounting the courtroom battles leading up to Brown, a unanimous decision declaring racial segregation in the nation’s public schools unconstitutional. “I said to myself, That would make a great movie!” said Bogner, a second-year law student who decided at age 4 that he would somehow land himself in the film industry. “All I knew was that mural, and that we had this legendary civil rights lawyer as our professor.” Bogner and Saroff, likewise committed to a movie future, divided duties and set to work, which required: sufferance of naysayers; a 20-page story treatment written by Bogner last summer; a business plan drafted by Saroff; formation of Via Media Productions, the corporate entity by which the two are to be engaged by New Line as co-producers; and hiring Charles H. Googe Jr. and Olivier Sultan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to mind their interests. (Sultan recently left Paul Weiss to become counsel at Creative Artists Agency.) Such a plateful is necessary in the glamourous world of movie-making, suggested a young lawyer who knows the business. “Even if you have a good idea — which this one seems cool! — when you’re somebody unknown you have to wade through a lot of crap,” said Daniel A. Thomas, 37, a Manhattan medical malpractice solo. Along with his wife, Elaine Goldsmith Thomas, a partner in New York-based Revolution Studios, he is involved in three prospective feature films and one television series. “The law is a very rule-oriented field, whereas in Hollywood there are absolutely no rules,” said Thomas. “But the advantage to people with law degrees is the advantage of bringing linear thought to the non-linear creative process.” Sometimes it works, sometimes otherwise. Thomas’ most recent Hollywood outing was his producing last year’s “Queens Supreme,” a CBS series canceled after a handful of episodes. The show’s milieu was Queens Supreme Court, with a cast of characters and a lineup of stories as quirky as the judges and litigants themselves. ELUSIVE SUCCESS In the context of television and movie studio odds — which lay heavily against advancing as far as Thomas did last year — there is more to success than ideas and business strategy, what Thomas calls the “controllable” factors. Beware the uncontrollable, he counsels young attorneys who would be auteurs. “If you’re seen as somebody who can get the job done, you’ll attract talent and resources,” he said. “When you pitch an idea, you also have to make it palatable in terms of the greatest amount of return. In the entertainment business, there’s a reason for that word ‘business.’ “And people in the business are dependent on their representatives to get them good projects,” he said. “There’s a chance somebody could make a bad deal for you — for example, your lawyer. So any time you enhance your knowledge in a specific area, like being a lawyer yourself, you’re in a better position to maximize your opportunity. “But the bottom line is, there’s a lot of luck involved.” There are also the matters of competition, market saturation and differing emphases on the same subject. Next month, a documentary film by director Peter Gilbert, “With All Deliberate Speed,” opens in New York and four other cities. It deals with one of the state cases consolidated before the Supreme Court in Brown — the South Carolina matter of Briggs v. Elliott, argued by Robert L. Carter, U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District who was deputy counsel for the NAACP under Thurgood Marshall, eventually taking his place. Judge Carter also argued Brown before the high court, which he said in an article for the current issue of The Nation magazine is commonly regarded as “the most important Supreme Court decision of the 20th Century.” A LUCKY BREAK So far as luck is concerned with “Untitled Jack Greenberg Project,” Bogner and Saroff were fortunate to have pitched their idea to a pair of Columbia Law graduates who happen to be co-chairmen of New Line — Robert Shaye and Michael Lynne. Their cause was aided by Saroff’s stint as a New Line development department intern a few summers ago in Los Angeles, as well as this year’s plan: half the season as a summer associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, half as an intern once again at New Line. Bogner, meanwhile, has been hired by Weil, Gotshal & Manges as a summer associate. Last year, he worked as an intern at Miramax Films in New York. The world of big-firm New York law is the immediate goal of both men, film buffs and pals since summers spent in the Adirondacks at Camp Echo Lake. But Hollywood is kept firmly in their minds as a professional future. “Ten years at Weil Gotshal or Paul Weiss and I can run any studio in Hollywood,” said Bogner. For now, the two are mentally assembling the perfect cast for their movie. “Will Smith is Thurgood Marshall,” said Saroff. “Matt Damon is Jack Greenberg.” Meanwhile, A-list Hollywood screenwriters Paul Redford and Lawrence O’Donnell Jr. flew to New York earlier this week for meetings with the ambitious co-producers and the modest professor. Greenberg nixed a dinner meeting at the ritzy Terrace Restaurant in Morningside Heights. Instead, all will assemble for a meal of pigs’ knuckles, prepared by the professor, whose other published work, co-authored with late Harvard Law School Dean James Vorenberg, is in the culinary genre: “Dean Cuisine, or The Liberated Man’s Guide to Fine Cooking.” Saroff and Bogner have no doubt there are vagaries and difficulties to come as their enterprise advances. On the brighter side, they say, there is the pleasure of studying law. “Suppose nothing ever comes of this project,” said Bogner. “We get to hang out with Jack Greenberg.”

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