‘S-Town’ Meets ‘Spotlight’: Popular Podcast Set for Film Version From Director Tom McCarthy

The Oscar-winning director will likely helm a film based on the popular "This American Life" podcast that made waves last year.
Tom McCarthyAmerican Riviera Award, Santa Barbara International Film Festival, America - 05 Feb 2016
Chelsea Lauren/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Another “This American Life” podcast is getting a brand-new visual-centric adaptation. Just weeks after HBO announced its plans to release a new Amy Berg-directed series about Adnan Syed, the focus of the first season of their popular “Serial” podcast, Participant Media has lined up the rights to the inaugural season of their “S-Town” podcast. Deadline reports that “Spotlight” helmer Tom McCarthy is already in negotiations to direct the film, and playwright Samuel Hunter is in talks to write the script. “This American Life” will also produce the new project.

Named one of IndieWire’s Best Podcasts of 2017, the seven-epsiode series was an instant hit, racking up a record-breaking 10 million downloads in its four days (the entire series was released in one go, the podcast equivalent of a big ol’ Netflix binge). The podcast received the Peabody Award for 2017 in the category Radio/Podcast.

Hosted by Brian Reed, the podcast initially chronicled a man named John B. McLemore who hated his small Alabama town enough to deem it “Shit-Town” and who reached out to producer Reed to help him solve a murder mystery that encapsulated so many of the injustices he saw as corrosive to his environment. Of course, the story soon spiraled out into something much bigger.

As IndieWire’s Steve Greene wrote of the first episode, “Later episodes would richly paint a portrait of an Alabama town wrestling with the legacy of one of its citizens. But what helped make ‘S-Town’ the remarkable achievement that it is can all be found right here in the beginning. A willingness to listen to one man’s story, wherever it may lead, without pretense or judgment, is the hallmark of the kind of storytelling in whose footsteps Brian Reed and his team follows. An ability to mirror an audience’s wide-eyed, uncertain reaction to one man’s skeptical claims is a jolt of sincerity in the midst of a project that could have easily been drenched in cynicism and doubt. The devastation and reconciliation would come later, but it’s in this opening that ‘S-Town’ truly become something special.”

It’s an inherently cinematic story, and McCarthy’s skill with journalistic stories is a strong fit for it. No word yet on potential casting or even eyed release dates, but expect more on this project to come. (We’ll go ahead and nominate Woody Harrelson for McElmore right now, though.)

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