That was quick: Film about Santos already in the works

To no one’s surprise, there is going to be a made-for-TV film about serial fabulist and no ex-congressperson George Santos. In Santos’s case, the film will be based on a book on his life that was released last week.

A book about the improbable rise and rapid fall of former congressman George Santos has been optioned by HBO Films, it was reported Saturday, and will be produced under the guidance of Frank Rich, a former New York Times columnist known for executive production credits on Emmy awards-winning Succession and Veep.

HBO reportedly optioned the rights to Mark Chiusano’s The Fabulist: The Lying, Hustling, Grifting, Stealing, and Very American Legend of George Santos, published last week.

“He is someone who is clearly very ambitious and wants to live a kind of wealthy life, a life of fame and notoriety, and he is trying to attain essentially a version of the American dream, which so many people have sought over the years,” Chiusano said.

According to Deadline, the adaptation of The Fabulist will be written by Mike Makowsky, who wrote the screenplay of HBO’s crime drama Bad Education, and will tell the “Gatsby-esque journey of a man from nowhere who exploited the system, waged war on truth and swindled one of the wealthiest districts in the country to achieve his American Dream”.

There seems to be a huge market for true-life stories that are ripped from the headlines as can be seen from the popularity of true-crime podcasts. The stories of con artists and the people they swindle are almost guaranteed large audiences, and producers like to do them quickly while the story is still fresh in people’s minds.

I had been under the impression that in order to do a TV story about a living person, you had to buy the rights to it from that person, and so it seemed like the fraudster gets another chance to make money off their swindles, which did not seem right even if Santos needs money to pay the legal bills to defend himself from the many criminal charges that he faces. But it turns out the situation is more complicated, that while getting the rights is not strictly necessary, doing so has benefits.

Life story rights are a bundle of releases and permissions that studios can acquire when they want to tell a story about a real person, but technically, legal experts say that life story rights aren’t an absolute requirement.

“No one needs life story rights to do a movie about anybody,” said Bryan Sullivan, entertainment lawyer and founding partner at Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae.

But buying the life story rights from someone guarantees they won’t sue studios for defamation, invasion of privacy or publicity rights.

At the same time, life rights can come with exclusive access. 

“You’re often getting cooperation,” Romano said.

“It could include access to diaries, emails, documents, and all sorts of other information,” Sullivan said.

“You really have the legitimacy of telling a story,” Lin said.

But while the person may get quite a lot of money for signing away the rights (Anna Sorokin, the woman who pretended to be a German heiress and conned a large number of friends, socialites, and hotels, got $320,000 for the Netflix series on her life), they may not get to keep it for themselves. Since criminals aren’t allowed to profit off their crimes, the money Sorokin got from Netflix was mostly used to pay back banks and settle fines.

So how much would the rights to Santos’s story be worth?

“It’s kind of arbitrary to be really honest,” Lin said.

“There is no math to this,” Sullivan said. “It is an art form about what they’re willing to take.”

“It’s actually how many bidders you have and how exposed a story is,” Romano said.

Experts say life story rights typically made up 2 to 5% of a budget, but the rise of streaming is making the market a little more competitive and upping the price for high-profile stories. If the cost is too high, studios may instead start weighing risk.

“There have been cases where an individual sued a production company or studio, and they lost, and the film was allowed to move forward and there was never a penny paid for those life rights,” Romano said.

The person can continue to milk their story even after they sell the film rights but the shelf life of such stories is not very long. While the Netflix series about Sorokin was a huge success (I watched it), any new telling of those same events is not likely to garner much interest.

So Santos needs to get as much as he can the first time around so that he can hope to repay all the people he swindled.

UPDATE:: John Oliver says that Santos really needs his own reality TV show.


  1. moarscienceplz says

    Bah, nasty little crooks like Santos are a dime a dozen. The real story is why nobody exposed him the minute he filed to run for Congress, and why people gave him money to do so (and who they are).
    This should be a story about how rotten our electoral system is, not about some silly rodent from Brazil.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    They should let Stephen Fry or Rowan Atkinson play the main character.
    They have experience in playing the unbelievably dishonest arrogant crooks that can be found in the upper levels of Brit society, especially politics.

  3. John Morales says

    In the news:

    George Santos wasted no time seeking a new income stream since being expelled from Congress on Friday, adding his name and availability as “former congressional ‘Icon’!” to the website Cameo, a website that offers access to thousands of celebrities for request of “a personalized video message for any occasion”.

    It was not clear early on Monday if the “George Santos” on Cameo was genuine. The congressional office for New York’s district three had no information, and requests for confirmation from Cameo were not returned. However, Santos himself added the link to his supposed Cameo page to his Twitter/X biography.

  4. John Morales says

    birgerjohansson, leaving aside that Santos is one of the unbelievably dishonest arrogant crooks that can be found in the upper levels of Brit USA society, especially politics and neither Rowan nor Stephen are USAnians, they’re both well into their 60s.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    John Morales @ 5
    Yes, but the two nations have a lot in common, in terms of offering opportunities for “creative” individuals. Too bad the two actors are too old for the job.
    Mads Mikkelsen did a great portrayal of a psychopath in “Lecter” but Santos is too trivial to fit.
    Do you have any actors that are particularly good at satire? Those I recall are long in the tooth.

  6. John Morales says

    birger, I don’t keep up, so no. Nobody in mind.
    It’s just that when I think of Santos, I don’t think wrinkly old men.

    But it’s a big industry, I would not mind seeing someone who is not yet a star but who is a good actor take the role. Hopefully, someone in the roughly the same age.

  7. says

    I had been under the impression that in order to do a TV story about a living person, you had to buy the rights to it from that person, and so it seemed like the fraudster gets another chance to make money off their swindles…

    And the Republican Party gets yet another chance to keep on using him as a weapon of mass-distraction from all of their far worse, far more harmful malfeasances. Like, just for starters, their nationwide campaign to disenfranchise as many Americans as possible in time for the 2024 election.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Raging Bee @ 10
    John Oliver already has a pair of glasses, he could be a good fit.
    Maybe Sasha Baron Cohen, he is good at doing “shameless”. But is he shameless enough?

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