Legendary director and producer Barry Sonnenfeld – whose body of work includes The Addams Family films, Get Shorty, and the Men In Black franchise – has set his sights on making a feature film about Project Alpha. The elaborate hoax perpetrated by James Randi over thirty years ago is the focus of the feature length documentary, An Honest Liar, which numbers Sonnenfeld among its executive producers. The factual movie premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, and now, the director has seen the potential for further storytelling.
“I sought out Justin and Tyler immediately after I watched An Honest Liar at Telluride Mountainfilm,” he said. “Not only did I love An Honest Liar, but I knew there was an excellent narrative film to be made out of this story, with James Randi playing the ‘behind the curtain’ puppeteer.”
James Randi – also known as The Amazing Randi – is a retired magician and professional investigator of paranormal pronouncements and ‘pseudoscience.’ His overall goal has always been to debunk the theories associated with such phenomena. In 1979, Randi began an ambitious plan – named Project Alpha – that involved planting two teenage amateur magicians inside the Psychical Research project of James S. McDonnell who, as chairman of the board at McDonnell Douglas, had provided a sizeable grant to Washington University to study psychic phenomena in a laboratory setting.
The two young men – Steve Shaw and Michael Edwards – continued their charade for 21 months, even becoming famous in the field of psi research to the extent that they were repeatedly invited to far-flung destinations to demonstrate their ‘abilities.’ Randi finally revealed his grand scheme inside a 1981 issue of Discover Magazine, making an announcement that led to the end of the McDonnell Lab, and landed devastating blows to the careers of those researchers that had endorsed the magicians as being truly psychic.
Barry Sonnenfeld is reportedly planning to direct and produce Project Alpha, which is in the earliest stages of development. As always, we’ll keep you posted when we hear more.