In addition to the March announcement that a scripted film based on his story is in development, as well as news that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will do whatever is legally within bounds to ensure that the man at the center of the narrative, 50-year-old Darius McCollum, who has a long history of transit-related crimes, does not profit from the sale of his story to Hollywood… there’s also a documentary feature film on McCollum.
Currently traveling the film festival circuit, the Gemini Pictures and Zipper Brothers Films is titled “Off the Rails,” directed by Adam Irving, and produced by Irving and Glen Zipper.
“Off the Rails” tells McCollum’s remarkable true story – a man with Asperger’s syndrome, whose overwhelming love of transit has landed him in jail 32 times for impersonating New York City transit workers.
The short version of the story goes something like this… 50-year-old McCollum has long loved impersonating New York transit staff, stealing buses and trains, and then driving them away. It’s something he’s been doing since he was a teenager. Once he stole a bus at Penn Station and drove it, full of passengers, to New York’s Kennedy airport. Another time he responded to an emergency stop call on the subway at 57th street in Manhattan; clearing passengers safely and correctly and diagnosing the problem, in full uniform, before being caught by the train driver, who had seen his face on a wanted poster.
His actions have made him something of a folk hero here in NYC. But he has spent a chunk of his young life in jail, thanks to this apparent hobby of his, although that hasn’t stopped him.
He’s been arrested at least 30 times in 35 years.
“I feel I just need to be there even if it’s just for a little while,” McCollum told the Wall Street Journal in 2013 about the transit network. “And then, the more I’m there, the more I want to get involved.”
McCollum has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (an autism disorder), as well as depression and anxiety stemming from a childhood school attack, but only recently have courts begun to take his illnesses into account when hearing cases of his many arrests. And while McCollum has often agreed to seek therapy, he always ends up back on the rails or behind the wheel of a bus, and, inevitably, back in front of a judge and then in jail.
In the proposed feature film based on McCollum’s story, which will be titled “Train Man,” with Julia Roberts playing his attorney, (in what is said to be a courtroom drama), McCollum’s past will be visited via flashbacks, starting at age 15, when his fascination with the transit system began.
Simon Stephenson is penning the script which will reportedly offer a “meaty role” for Roberts – one that could put her in Oscar contention (something along the lines of her Oscar-winning performance “Erin Brockovich”).
An actor has yet to be cast to play McCollum, and no director is attached yet.
Gotham Group is producing the film with FilmNation Entertainment financing it.
The MTA says that it will try to recoup any money made by McCollum from the feature film. The agency says it plans to pursue funds under the state’s “Son of Sam law” which restricts a criminal’s ability to profit off crimes, calling any money made “ill-gotten gains.” The agency has asked the film’s producers to notify New York State’s Office of Victim Services about the details of their financial arrangement with Mr. McCollum.
In response, his attorney Ms. Butler called the MTA’s actions “outrageous” adding that there is no deal currently in place between McCollum and the film’s producers. “It’s not going to be such a significant amount that the M.T.A. would want to waste money on the team of lawyers they would need to pursue this,” she said. “They will take it over my dead body,” she promises, adding that what he needs is mental health treatment, not punishment.
Meanwhile, after stops at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the Riverrun Film Festival, and others, Irving’s documentary “Off the Rails” will next screen this week at Hot Docs in Toronto, Canada, with dates at the San Francisco Documentary Festival in June afterward. Future screenings will be announced as they are secured. To stay up-to-date, follow the film on Facebook, or its website. Check out a trailer and poster for the film below.
In November 2015, McCollum was arrested for stealing a bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. As of March of this year, he was being held on a $50,000 bail or $100,000 bond.