In the IP era, there are few things juicier than an unclaimed bit of public-domain real estate, which could explain why Gawker’s death at the hands of Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel has become the object of the latest Hollywood gold rush. So far, we’ve seen three different projects in development from filmmakers dreaming of making the next Social Network. There’s John Gary’s Gawker vs. Thiel, a wide-angle view of the site’s various controversies, informed by dozens of interviews with ex-Gawkerites. There’s Kenny Kyle’s Just the Facts, a biopic of former Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio. And then there’s the adaptation of Ryan Holiday’s book Conspiracy, written by The Big Short’s Charles Randolph, with Francis Lawrence attached to direct.
It’s unclear how many of the projects, if any, will end up panning out, but drafts of the first two have been going around the film and media worlds for a few months now. (Randolph’s script doesn’t seem to be making the rounds yet, so he’s presumably still hard at work.) But what do the people who lived through the whole ordeal think? We decided to ask the Gawker diaspora, a cadre of writers who were never shy about sharing their opinions, what they thought about the idea of a movie about the demise of their beloved site.
Many politely declined, saying they were put off by the whole idea of a Gawker movie. Others would only give their opinions off the record. Even those who would talk about the scripts were not exactly enthused by the prospect of having to relitigate Hogan vs. Gawker one more time. “The idea of any of these being made is so soul-sucking to think about,” said one ex-Gawker writer. “I have a hard time seeing why anyone would want to watch a movie about us, but I guess there’s people who want to write them, at least.”
Gawker vs. Thiel
John Gary spent countless hours talking to ex-Gawkerites for his script, which has Modern Family’s Jason Winer attached to direct. His level of investment shows in the screenplay’s parade of details, down to the names of the bars the staff frequent. “It’s clear that he got a lot of the environmental details right: the physical geography of Lower Manhattan, what it was like to walk into Nick Denton’s apartment,” says former writer Keenan Trotter, who spoke to Gary briefly for the project.
Gary’s affinity for Gawker is also reflected in the script’s character descriptions, which are a treat to read even if they won’t make it into any prospective film version. (Managing editor Tom Scocca is “what happens when an L.L. Bean model majors in biological anthropology at Harvard but wastes it by going into journalism.”) To the ex-staffers, the descriptions have an additional utility. “I love them because they’re very fun to make fun of the person about,” says the ex-writer. “They’re really good for owning my friends.”
Gary’s script periodically zooms out to check in on people like Hogan and Thiel’s lawyers, but it’s clear his heart is with the writers. (The final line is a real kicker: “Never forget that Gawker was murdered because a billionaire didn’t like it.”) Some on the staff give it credit for at least trying to stay balanced. “There does seem to be an effort in the script to complicate the narrative,” says Trotter. “It’s not even attempting to suggest that Gawker was innocent; it’s attempting an analysis of the cultural and social forces that were behind all of this, without necessarily trying to absolve anyone.” Not everyone thinks that will matter. “It’s super-sympathetic to Gawker,” says the ex-writer. Even if Gawker vs. Thiel gets made, “people will be like, Oh, it’s fanboy bullshit.”
Just the Facts
This spec from Hawaii Five-O writer Kenny Kyle takes an approach you might call “heavily inspired by Martin Scorsese,” with Goodfellas-style narration from Daulerio charting his rise and fall. (The Gawker diaspora has been calling it “Wolf of Blog Street.”) The draft I saw ends with Daulerio refusing a plea deal that would leave him unable to speak out about the trial, then typing away at the script that we’ve just seen — the implication being, this is the official A.J. Daulerio version of the story. But by all accounts, the former Gawker editor has no involvement with the project, and some insiders expressed irritation that Daulerio, who had his assets seized after the trial, would not be the one to profit off his own life story.
Just the Facts seems to be slightly ahead of Gawker vs. Thiel in the race to get made, and reading both scripts, you can see why: While Gary’s screenplay can sometimes come off as just a collection of scenes, Kyle’s reads much more like an actual movie. But the strain of hammering the story of Gawker into a familiar Hollywood story arc is pretty obvious, especially when the Daulerio character has a moment of contrition at the very end. “All the shit about A.J. looking back and being like, How could we have been so cruel? is insane,” says the ex-writer.
The Conspiracy adaptation
The ex-employees I spoke to had varying opinions on a lot of things related to the fall of Gawker, but on one issue they were united: Basically everyone hated Ryan Holiday, the PR-flack-turned-author Gawker previously called “a lying dick” and a “known fraud.” As you might expect, then, no one was too keen on seeing his recent book about Thiel and Gawker get a big-budget adaptation from the director of The Hunger Games. “The parts [of the book] I’ve seen are littered with factual inaccuracies, and Ryan Holiday being a piece of shit,” says the ex-writer. “I still can’t believe somebody paid him to write it.” Still, they see some poetic irony in the idea of Holiday’s version of the story being the one that gets made: “The option that is the biggest slap in the face to Gawker is the one that usually happens.”
Which one would they prefer?
As you might expect, most of the writers and editors I talked to slightly preferred Gary’s version, even if it too takes occasional liberties. But if they had a choice? Says the ex-writer: “My ideal world is that no Gawker movie gets made and we all get to move on with our lives one day.”