With his round owl-like glasses, Ed Pressman looks like a college professor or perhaps even an art director from Mad Men, although he is neither. Pressman is the producer responsible for memorable movies like Wall Street, Hoffa and Reversal of Fortune as well as The Cooler, one of my favorite independent films. Pressman seems to have to have a perpetual twinkle in his eye along with what I'm guessing is a continual wry inward chuckle as well.
At the moment, Pressman is putting together what looks to be a very interesting and controversial feature film about Joe Paterno. Brian De Palma is set to direct and Al Pacino will play the legendary yet ultimately disgraced coach. The two have already collaborated on Scarface and Carlito's Way, and after playing Jack Kevorkian and Phil Spector, Pacino will have the opportunity to portray another notorious and tragic character. They've enlisted the services of screenwriter David McKenna, who has already completed a treatment.
I have a few friends who were recruited by and played for Paterno, so when Pressman and I sat down recently to discuss the project we swapped JoePa stories. Screenwriter McKenna has compiled many anecdotes and tales about Paterno and one story that struck Pressman was when Paterno took his two daughters to a restaurant where one ordered a la carte while the other chose the buffet. The daughter who ordered a la carte reached over and took a pickle from her sister who had ordered buffet. This made Paterno so furious that he stormed out of the restaurant and had to drive his car around the block in order to calm down.
College coaches -- even the good ones -- have the power of third world despots and come to enjoy the authority and control provided by their positions. Pressman certainly understands this and describes Paterno's story as a "Greek tragedy." His past experience in handling films with scandalous characters has worked out well, as he proved with Reversal of Fortune, where they told Claus Von Bulow's story from the perspective of the victim -- his wife, Sunny. According to Pressman, the Paterno story poses similar challenges, but nothing they can't handle. "It's been many years since I've seen Brian (De Palma) so excited," said Pressman.
"It's a complex story," adds Pressman, who is a bit cagey on precisely what the film is going to cover, although he says that Jerry Sandusky will play a major part in the film. People know the horror of Sandusky's acts, and are aware of Paterno's complicity, but based on my conversation with Pressman, this film will give audiences a clear understanding of Sandusky's rise to power in the Penn State program and exactly how it brought about Paterno's demise.
I've followed Penn State football for 40 years and I write about sports on a regular basis, so Brian De Palma is not the only one excited about this project.