Esperanza Movie Moves Ahead with Director Jim Mickle

Cold in July director Jim Mickle, 35, has signed on to direct Legendary's upcoming project Esperanza.

The film adaptation of The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder and the Agony of Engine 57 took a big step forward with the recent announcement that Jim Mickle, a well-regarded Indie director, has been signed to direct the project. The announcement was widely reported in the trade press, most thoroughly by Sarah Myles on

With a script crafted by screenwriter Sean O'Keefe, the story chronicles the lives of firefighters in the small mountain town of Idyllwild, California. The 2006 Esperanza Fire killed all five members of a Forest Service engine crew. The fire burned over 40,000 acres, culminating in an "area ignition" that took the lives of firefighters Jason McKay, Jess McLean, Daniel Najera, Mark Loutzenhiser, and Pablo Cerda. In June 2009, Raymond Lee Oyler was sentenced to death for starting the fire; his conviction for murder was the first ever in a case of a wildfire arson.


The Esperanza Fire, photo by Josh Richardson, Engine 52.

Alex Hedlund, Vice President of Production for Legendary Pictures, is overseeing the Esperanza movie project.

"People always sound so trite when talking about not being able to put down a book," said Hedlund. "But there is no better way to describe my experience of reading John's book. Idyllwild is a fascinating setting, unlike any place I have ever read about. This is a very important and personal story to many people, and we need to respect that as we continue to develop the feature. The film should be a prism into this town and community, harnessing the spirit of this particular event."

"Authenticity is the goal," Hedlund added.

Idyllwild Volleyball Champs

O'Keefe, who is currently writing the remake of The Escapist, starring Liam Neeson, is confident about Mickle's direction of the movie version of the Esperanza story. "Though he has just come on board, Jim already has a real feel for the story, as well as a deep respect for the wildland firefighting community," said O'Keefe.

He and Mickle are collaborating on an advanced draft of the screenplay; during his research, he visited Idyllwild and worked with the colleagues, friends, and families of Engine 57 in his efforts to accurately tell their story and honor their memory. O'Keefe hopes the movie will portray the strength and resilience of the community they gave their lives to protect. "But a movie in development is like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn," he said. "There's still a long journey ahead, and we'll be fighting the current. But with Jim's attachment as director, we have cleared a waterfall."

Jim Mickle The Hollywood Reporter noted that Mickle's movie Cold in July screened at both the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. He also directed the 2013 film We Are What We Are.

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Jim Mickle photo © Scott McDermott, courtesy of Sundance Institute.