Mr. Reppas Goes to Hollywood

A Hillsborough entrepreneur wants to sue the U.S. government for $65 million. George Clooney, call your agent.

Told to let his pen run, Scribner's first draft ran to 239 pages, which translates into an unproduceable four-hour movie. Long, tense arguments ensued over what to cut. "I had to tell him, "George, the audience can't stay in the theater longer than you've been in prison,'" Scribner says.

In the script, the halo refers to the reddish silt of erosion in the sea around Madagascar. It also refers to Reppas, who is nothing less than an inspiring and almost divine presence, emboldening the spirits of his fellow inmates when he's not pecking out angry letters to Henry Kissinger (whom he still refers to as "Henry Kissmeoff").

"It's like Midnight Express without being full of hash," says Mickey Freiberg of Los Angeles-based The Artists Agency, which took on the script.

The end titles of the Hell's Haloscript say that "George Reppas still vows to return to Madagascar to restart his AGM projects." But first, Reppas needs to sue the U.S. government. Reppas is nothing if not stubborn -- he believes strongly that the government avoided its duty to support his venture, and that putting out a book and movie telling his story can build public sympathy for his case. "I think it opens up a lawsuit," he says. "There's a good chance for a break with it. I think it can be very helpful."

Reppas' case is essentially an insurance claim. When AGM started, it acquired risk insurance from what is now the Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC), a government agency that insures the investments of American companies doing business abroad. Stanford's Hoover Institution crunched the numbers to figure out how much Reppas might be owed. Factoring in about 30 years of unpaid interest on the principal of his stolen investment, Reppas figures he is due about $65 million. He has been pursuing the matter since his return to the Bay Area in 1975, appealing to OPIC and getting rebuffed; according to a Hoover Institution report, Reppas was told by an OPIC official that his claim wouldn't be recognized because AGM lapsed in its premium payments before it was expropriated, which Reppas says is not true. And with a democracy in Madagascar today, Reppas thinks he can reasonably make a claim to do business there again. Now is a good time, he believes, to take the matter to the courts.

"There's no precedent for this sort of case," says Reppas. "I need an attorney with a great imagination."

Producer Paulson -- whose previous credits include the Wesley Snipes vehicle Passenger 57 and a batch of made-for-cable films -- has high hopes for the project, though with an actors' and writers' strike looming in the spring, there is pressure to speed the film into production. Freiberg, Hollywood agent that he is, is a tad more focused on issues of budget, casting, and international appeal. He estimates production costs at a relatively cheap $25 million to $30 million. "It won't be a network movie," he says. "It's too dark, and there's not enough money in a network movie. We can get it on the fast track by getting a director attached. And then an actor with some foreign value.

"Maybe we'll have the premiere in Madagascar," Freiberg adds with a laugh.

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