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Batavia man’s war memoir optioned for film by Universal

The story – full of heart, humor and horror, as one supporter puts it – has been ready for nearly a decade. Hollywood just needed to catch up.

It seems Hollywood has.

Two big-name companies, some decorated producers and a screenwriter whose star is fast rising have thrown their support behind the idea of turning 39-year-old Batavia resident and Iraq War veteran David Bellavia’s 2007 book, “House to House: An Epic Memoir of War,” into a movie.

Universal Studios has optioned the book, which details then-Staff Sgt. Bellavia’s experience leading his soldiers through a dangerous residential neighborhood in the Second Battle of Fallujah. The movie’s production company will be Imagine Entertainment, which was founded by legendary Hollywood producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard.

Bellavia, who began talking to Hollywood filmmakers even before the book’s publication, has been working since 2012 with the Oscar-winning producer Rich Middlemas to find a home for the book. At first it was difficult to find takers; historically, military films aren’t locked-in box-office smashes.

“If you’re trying to make a decision between making an Owen Wilson comedy or the (story of the) Battle of Fallujah, I think the safer choice is probably to go with something a little more mainstream,” Middlemas said.

But in recent years, with the war movie “Lone Survivor” resonating and “American Sniper” becoming, in Bellavia’s words, “such a juggernaut,” Hollywood’s appetite for another military film grew stronger.

And this one is different than many war stories, Middlemas pointed out, because it focuses not on special forces, but regular soldiers, some of whom are barely out of high school and fresh out of boot camp.

“(You) see these blue-collar guys from different parts of the country being tasked with this incredibly daunting job,” Middlemas said. “They need to clear these houses and get to the end of the street – it just so happens it’s the most dangerous street in the world.”

Bellavia’s story has heart and humor, Middlemas said, and also moments of horror. That blend of emotions, along with Bellavia’s own inner battles (at the beginning of the story, he questions whether he’s a coward), grabbed producers’ attention as Middlemas shopped the story around. But just as important, Bellavia and Middlemas say, is the man recruited to write the screenplay: screenwriter Max Adams, a 38-year-old Iraq War veteran.

“Reading the book, you instantly see the movie,” Adams said, offering the example of a moment in which Bellavia tells his men that there’s a 30 percent casualty rate as they enter a breach.

“That’s crazy,” said Adams, who recently finished directing Bruce Willis in “Precious Cargo.” “It doesn’t happen in today’s military, to turn to somebody and say, ‘Three out of 10 of you aren’t going to make it past the breach point because it’s going to be that dire and that daunting of a task.”

The next step is the development of the screenplay. Adams will have the next several weeks to write the first draft, which Middlemas says could be ready as early as September. The feedback to that screenplay will drive what follows. Not every movie put into development gets made, but Middlemas and Bellavia are optimistic that they’ve found the right writer to create this story.

“This guy has been shot at, and he’s shot his weapon,” Bellavia said. “He understands it.”

email: toshei@buffnews.com

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