How 2 Guys Dug Up The McDonald's Monopoly Scandal And Made It The Hottest Movie Idea In Hollywood

David Klawans finds amazing true stories, works with journalists to make them into long-form articles, then sells the film rights. His biggest success was Argo, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, coming out of a Wired article by Joshuah Bearman.

One of his latest discoveries: a story about Jerome Jacobson, an ex-cop who rigged the McDonald's Monopoly game with the help of some mobsters, psychics, and a family of Mormons. Before getting caught by the FBI, he stole nearly every prize for 12 years, adding up to more than $24 million in jackpots.

To uncover the story's details, Klawans enlisted writer Jeff Maysh, who published a Daily Beast article on the McDonald's scam June 28. Just days later, the story was sold to Fox — with Matt Damon attached to star and Ben Affleck attached to direct.

This isn't Maysh and Klawans' only collaboration. They're committed to digging up real-life stories together and hashing them out, all in order to potentially sell them to movie studios. Their collection also includes stories of a catfish-gone-well, a pez-dispenser smuggler, and a mom who joins her daughter's cheerleading squad.

Klawans explained how he does it: "Basically spend hours in archives trying to find these obscure stories. There's certain elements in a story that I think would work as a long-form piece, and then become a movie. So I've spoken to Jeff about some of these stories I find, and then we talk about which ones would work best."

Jeff Maysh (left) and David Klawans (right)

(Editor's note: A version of this story was also on the radio. Listen to it here on KPCC's The Frame.)

It's critical to pitch a full story, not just an idea.

"It becomes a piece of intellectual property," Klawans said. "It's almost impossible these days to sell a pitch or a spec. You could back in the day, but not today."

When digging through archives, there are identifiable elements that make a story movie-worthy. Klawans and Maysh try to see history and news through that lens.

"I think they all are sort of truth is stranger than fiction tales," Klawans said. "They deal with very rich, juicy characters. They all have stories that are deep in conflict. They all sort of have a bit of a comical angle to them that I think makes for a successful piece."

The McDonald's piece was somehow missed by authors and studio execs — thanks to its unfortunate timing.

"The story was largely unknown because the trial started the day before 9/11," Maysh said. "When I read about it, I was just blown away. I don't think of things as could this be a fantastic movie? I think, could this be a fantastic magazine feature? When you have multiple characters with unbelievable arcs and that comical element that David mentioned, that's what makes a good read and is irresistible to my editors. In the McDonald's story, it's that truth is stranger than fiction X-factor that I love."

The Daily Beast article went viral immediately, ranking as the #1 story on both Twitter and Facebook. The bubbling hype around the story made it instantly desirable to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

"It was as if it was a movie fantasy league list," Maysh said. "You'd get these calls saying this actor wants to do it, this filmmaker, this screenwriter. And it was just non-stop."


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