Mike Fleming

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UPDATE 11 AM: TOLDJA! Alcon just issued a press release. Looks like James Cameron won’t be taking the producer credit, but his Lightstorm team of Jon Landau and Rae Sanchini are still taking the lead on this. Cameron, who’s probably too busy now, had been listed as producer about the project.

EXCLUSIVE 7:30 AM: Spike Lee is closing a deal to next direct Nagasaki Deadline, a thriller that will shoot on the East Coast next year. Alcon Entertainment will finance, and partners Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson will produce with Lightstorm Entertainment’s James Cameron, Jon Landau and Rae Sanchini. 8:38 Productions’ Kira Davis is also producing.

This will be the first feature for Lee since 2008’s Miracle At St. Anna. The film focuses on a troubled FBI agent and his desperate race to thwart two terrorist attacks planned to unfold on American soil. The fed goes beyond obvious suspects to focus on theories that the crime is tied to historical events, as he races against the clock.

Given the recent Times Square terror scare, this is risky, hot-button stuff. Creatively, it returns Lee to the fast-paced thriller terrain he covered in Inside Man, which I think was Lee’s best film in years. While he delivered a solid hit on budget with three stars–Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen–studios hardly flooded him with followup offers. While Lee should be viewed as one of Gotham’s most talented filmmakers, every film he makes is a struggle, and many fall apart. With few exceptions,  studios have kept their distance, probably because of his past penchant for speaking his mind, and for the way he leveraged Warner Bros to get his way on Malcolm X. Interestingly, Alcon Entertainment’s output arrangement with Warner Bros puts Lee back in business with that studio, something he wasn’t sure would ever happen. After publicly campaigning to get Norman Jewison to bow out, Lee shot Malcolm X and then threatened to disown it–which would have killed it with urban audiences–as he battled to get his way over such issues as continuing the film beyond the devastating assassination scene. Lee once told me a great story about how he sat in a screening room in 1992 with Warner Bros chiefs Bob Daly and Terry Semel, who were seeing his Malcolm X cut for the first time. The execs started getting interrupted with notes from frantic-looking assistants. The Los Angeles riots were unfolding nearby. The studio chiefs watched the whole film, but there was little conversation after. They hurried home, and Lee raced to the airport to get out of town. Lee later tried to make the John Ridley-scripted LA Riots at Universal and Imagine. They were unable to agree on budget two years ago, and Universal’s move away from adult dramas after numerous failures further dims the film’s prospects.

Nagasaki Deadline has had its own back story of its own. Scripted by David and Peter Griffiths, the drama started at Fox, where Cameron makes all his movies. The film got dropped for self-evident reasons after 9/11. Alcon revived the drama, had Cast Away scribe William Broyles rewrite it, and set Martin Campbell to direct. He instead went off to helm Green Lantern with Ryan Reynolds. The original writers are polishing the script and CAA is closing its first director deal for Lee since signing him in March.