Hot Cannes Package: Chris Pratt & McG Turn Jocko Willink Novel ‘Way Of The Warrior Kid’ Into Film

EXCLUSIVE: Now that we know the competition slates, it’s time to bring out the star packages that will line the Cannes Market. Here’s one inspirational movie package that ought to register strongly with the buying crowd. Way of The Warrior Kid is slated to begin production this summer, with Chris Pratt starring and McG directing a Will Staples-scripted adaptation of the the novel by Jock Willink. He is the retired Navy SEAL who found a thriving second career as podcast host, bestselling author and motivational speaker.

UTA Independent Film Group and FilmNation will introduce the script shortly. If it’s as good as the backstories here, it ought to be a hot property. It’s a youth empowerment tale, only the title character isn’t waving a magic wand or wearing spandex. He’s a self-doubting kid who gets bullied and is hard pressed to complete a single pullup. That’s until his uncle Jake, an elite Navy SEAL, is injured on a mission and moves in with his sister for rehab. When he discovers his 11 year old nephew Marc is struggling academically, socially and physically, Jake takes on a new mission: using his SEAL Team training over three months of summer to help the youth find his inner warrior.

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Willink found a second career guiding adults, and that is how he became friendly with Pratt, the star of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers and Jurassic World films after he transformed from that pudgy protagonist from Parks and Recreation into a ripped leading man. Willink decided to write a YA book after the ones he read to his own children came up wanting.

“I spent my adult life in the military,” he said. “I was in the SEAL Teams, deployed all over the place, went up through the chain of command, and was lucky to have had a blessed career. That whole time, I also had a wife and four kids. I wanted to read them books and I would go to the store or to the library and I just couldn’t find any that I liked. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a pirate book. And it was filled with the weakest, most pathetic pirates I’d ever heard of in my life.”

What was missing? Depictions of kids who realize that turning around one’s life is not going to happen if they won’t put in some work. “So I started writing and publishing these kids’ books to give them value and some direction, and suddenly I’m getting letters and emails and handwritten notes from kids all over the world, who did their first pull up or entered their first jujitsu competition, or memorized all the presidents. These are all things that are in the books.”

The film will be produced by Ben Everard, McG, Mary Viola, Willink and Pratt.

“I’d done a private equity deal with one of my companies and one of the bankers, who was friends with Ben Everard,” Willink said. “Ben walked into his kid’s room one day and his son was down there on the floor doing pushups. He was kind of taken aback and asked, what’s going on? His son said he’d read Way of the Warrior Kid, and Ben thought, this must be a pretty powerful book if it’s having an impact on my kid like this.”

SEALs must not be big on patience or waiting for permission, because he sunk his own money to hire Staples, who adapted the Tom Clancy SEAL tale Without Remorse.

“Will Staples’ screenplay is incredible,” Pratt told Deadline. “I’ve known Jocko Willink for a couple of years, so I was eager to read the script based on his series of children’s books. I believe in the power of storytelling and felt particularly called to the material. I have faith this film will help to shape today’s youth, putting them on the right path. Our young people need this movie. Making films like this is why I created Indivisible Productions. In a world that feels divided, I believe it’s crucial to remember that we are one nation, and I hope this story will help bridge the growing divide and inspire the next generation to learn valuable lessons about discipline, self-reliance, strength, and compassion. This is the kind of movie that can define a generation, like Karate Kid or Rocky. As a dad, this is the kind of movie I want to show my kids. So, with the help of an incredible creative team and the right partner, we’re gonna make it.

“What I feel especially drawn to with my character, Jake, is the opportunity to portray a character that seems to be missing in contemporary pop culture, as well as in the lives of so many young people: a mindful portrayal of healthy masculinity,” Pratt said. “Jake uses fundamental principles he learned in the Navy SEALs to teach his nephew to gain confidence in himself, as well as to grow mentally and physically stronger in order to overcome adversity such as dealing with bullies, improving grades at school, and more. I have close family members and friends who served in the military, including my older brother, who has had a huge impact on my life. So, I always feel especially drawn to stories like this that inspire us to face our fears and become stronger mentally and physically.”

When they brought the package to McG, the helmer of Charlie’s Angels immediately sparked to the redemption tale in the most personal way possible. It took him back to the most crushing setback of his career.

“I don’t know if you remember this Mike, but I got fired off of Superman because I was very agoraphobic and afraid to fly,” McG said. “When I made those first two Charlie’s Angels movies, I never had to leave Los Angeles. It was all going so well. I remember trying to tell Alan Horn and Barry Meyer, ‘Hey, I am afraid to fly. I can’t go down to Australia.’ They wanted to shoot it in Australia. They’d had the good luck there with The Matrix movies down there and they couldn’t wrap their heads around my shortcoming. Maybe it surprised them because I got this kind of big boisterous personality. I tried, but when the day came to get on the plane, I couldn’t do it. I got fired that night by Warners, got the letter the next day from their legal that said, we reserve the right to sue you. You’ve caused damages. Really, a low point in my life.”

McG wanted to tell this story because it illustrates that few problems cannot be licked if one is willing to address them head on and put in the work to put them in the rear view mirror. He found help, and went through a process that included sleeping in a plane that sat on the tarmac. Eventually, he was able to take off. Since all that happened, he has flown to Australia numerous times, as he found a way to get a grip on his fear of flying over water. “That’s why I did the Matthew McConaughey movie, We Are Marshall, which was about a team recovering from a devastating plane crash. Now I’ve got kids of my own and I’m just attracted to following in that Rob Reiner shape of trying to avoid being put in a box.

“I’d met Chris Pratt, who I only knew a little bit even though he was on Season Two of The OC,” McG told Deadline. “We got along as far as our mutual enthusiasm for what Jocko was all about and what he’s going through with his kids too, and we’ll try here to give a new generation an antidote to social media. It has become more and more abundantly clear that it’s really not good for you. Kids stuck in rooms, staring at screens, leafing through all this stuff. It’s resulting in bad feelings about oneself and low self-esteem and damaging thoughts. We can do it where this movie’s never going to feel preachy or finger wagging. We have one of the great entertainers in Chris Pratt to carry the torch. We want to provide the good feelings we remember from Rocky and The Karate Kid. They make everybody go, I love movies that make me feel that way. That’s what we’re here to achieve and I think we got a real good chance to do it.”

FilmNation will handle international sales and UTA Independent Film Group will handle North America.

Pratt is repped by UTA, Rise Mgmt and Sloane Offer; McG is WME and Sloane Offer; Staples is CAA and Grandview; Everard is Lichter Grossman.

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