EXCLUSIVE: Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way front-runner to snag film rights to Edward Snowden film.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way is among the US outfits battling it out for rights to a film about fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency (NSA) scandal.

Multiple sources have confirmed to ScreenDaily that Appian Way, which has a production deal with Warner Bros., is the front-runner in the race to secure rights. The production company was unavailable for comment.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Guardian’s expose story about the NSA’s mass surveillance operation and who is now writing a book about Snowden and the NSA, confirmed to Screen that “there have been negotiations” [with an unnamed company/companies] for rights but that a deal has yet to be concluded.

Greenwald recently struck a deal with publisher Metropolitan Books to write a book about NSA surveillance, due for publication in March 2014. New York-based agency Writers House represents the screen rights.

Publisher Metropolitan has promised “new revelations exposing the extraordinary cooperation of private industry and the far-reaching consequences of the government’s programme, both domestically and abroad.”

Three of Greenwald’s four previous books have made it onto the New York Times bestseller list so the demand is understandable.

Screen also understands that at least one US executive has met with Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger to discuss a potential film.

However, it is as yet unclear whether a new film would focus on the content of Greenwald’s new book - most likely - Snowden’s life or Greenwald himself. Or whether Leonardo DiCaprio would star in the film, as he has in other films in which Appian Way has been among the producers, such as Martin Scorsese’s upcoming The Wolf of Wall Street.

What is clear is that if the rights are assigned in the coming weeks the project would be among the hottest pre-script properties at the American Film Market (AFM) in November.

NSA scandal

The Guardian first reported on the NSA scandal in June when Greenwald revealed that the NSA had been collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers under a top secret court order granting the government unlimited authority to obtain communications data.

Snowden, a US computer specialist and former CIA and NSA employee, disclosed the NSA-Verizon story and other classified details to The Guardian and was subsequently charged with espionage by the US government, prompting him to flee to Hong Kong and then Russia where he has been granted temporary asylum by the Russian government.

In July, The Guardian, after a threat of legal action by the UK government, destroyed computer hard drives containing copies of some of the secret files leaked by Snowden.

Other Snowden projects

US heavyweights are not the only ones keen to make a film about Snowden.

Screen yesterday spoke to Canadian producer and ‘hacking consultant’ Travis Doering about his project Classified: The Edward Snowden Story, a feature-length biopic about Snowden which he hopes to shoot in early 2014.

Shadow Company director Jason Bourque will direct the script, written by a screenwriter who wishes to remain anonymous. The production is in negotiation with actors Kevin Zegers, Michael Shanks and Carmen Aguirre.

The project is aiming for a budget of $1.7m and according to Doering, has raised $87,700 via the film’s website and $746,050 on Bitcoin and via product placement.

Doering has now launched a Kickstarter campaign with the aim of drumming up the remaining $866,250.

The producer, whose credits include half hour reality series Hacked, which explores the mind of a computer hacker, is planning to bypass traditional distribution and release the film on file-sharing site The Pirate Bay.

But both Doering and Hollywood were beaten to a film about Snowden by Verax, a five-minute video made for about $550, which has drawn more than 270,000 views on YouTube.

The short, produced by the group J.Shot Videos, documents Snowden’s three-week stay in the Far East and includes a large degree of creative licence while depicting imagined meetings at the Pentagon, and between Chinese and Hong Kong security services.

Verax stars Andrew Cromeek, an American school teacher in Hong Kong who bears an uncanny resemblance to Snowden.