And we’re off… I received emails and calls from a couple of recently inducted Academy Award voters who reported that the first two screeners of the season arrived in their mailboxes Wednesday from Sony Pictures Classics. The studio beat the competition by sending out the Australian crime thriller Animal Kingdom and the multi-story drama Mother And Child to all of the nearly 6,000 members. It’s a repeat of a familiar strategy employed by SPC in the past when they were first out in 2008 with Frozen River and in 2005 with Junebug. These small earlier-in-the-year releases clearly benefitted from separating themselves from the glut of November/December arrivals – and in the case of Frozen River landed Best Actress (Melissa Leo) and Best Original Screenplay nominations while the little-heralded Junebug pulled off a supporting actress nod for Amy Adams.
With Animal Kingdom trying to stay alive at the box office since its August 13th release, SPC co-presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard recently told me they plan to aggressively go after a supporting actress nomination for the acclaimed performance of Jacki Weaver, whose dynamic turn in the film would probably be a slam dunk if it could generate any Oscar heat. It’s exactly the kind of gritty character role that actors love to reward. The early screener gambit is a way to start.
As for Rodrigo Garcia’s heartfelt SPC film Mother And Child, which seemed to open and close rather quickly … Read More »
Chris Ball, Newmarket president and co-founder, will leave to form Wrekin Hill Entertainment, a new specialty film production and distribution label. Ball will continue his association with Newmarket’s owner, Exclusive Media Group, getting the new shingle started by releasing the Peter Weir-directed The Way Back, the harrowing period survival tale that stars Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong and Colin Farrell. Wreckin will also release the Billy Joel documentary The Last Play at Shea. Both pictures were financed by Exclusive. Wrekin will also release Hesher, the Sundance Film Festival acquisition Hesher, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Natalie Portman and Rainn Wilson. All three films will be released in tandem by Newmaket and Wrekin Hill, but the latter will be the active shingle.
Ball will be joined at Wrekin Hill by longtime Newmarket colleagues Rene Cogan, who was Newmarket COO-CFO and John Crye, who had been Newmarket’s president of production and acquisitions.
The move comes at a time when Exclusive is building up its US theatrical releasing business. The overall company, funded by Cyrte Investments, is spearheaded by co-chairmen Nigel Sinclair and Guy East. Exclusive’s first production is Weir’s The Way Back, while sister division Hammer Films produced Let Me In, the remake of Let The Right One In. The third production division is Spitfire Pictures, which mostly focuses on documentaries like Last Play at Shea, which focused on Joel’s final concert … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: I hear that MTV’s president of programming Tony DiSanto and his top lieutenant, SVP series development Liz Gateley, will be leaving the network to form a production company that will focus on film as well as scripted and unscripted television. I hear Ben Silverman’s Electus, backed by Barry Diller’s IAC, will own a stake in the new company which has already lined up a number of commitments, including some from MTV. Meanwhile, former WB entertainment president David Janollari, who joined MTV in January as EVP scripted development, will most likely be elevated to a top programming position at the channel. Janollari, who may not inherit DiSanto’s president of programming title, would probably oversee series but not specials, news and events. I hear Janollari has been offered the job and has until tomorrow to accept, which he is expected to do. DiSanto and Gateley are expected to stay through the end of the year to help with the transition. Read More »
Kelsey Grammer, the 5-time Emmy winner and Tony nominee, is moving from CAA to WME where he’ll be repped by the same half-dozen agent team who handle Tyler Perry. Grammer has a very busy TV production business (Medium, Girlfriends, The Game which is restarting). WME also signed Reba McEntire from CAA. The major Nashville singing star had one of The WB’s most highly rated sitcom for years until it was yanked and moved to Lifetime. From Nashville, WME also signed Grammy-nominated Little Big Town whose current country album has been #1.
EXCLUSIVE: George Clooney is close to finding his star for Farragut North. I’m told he’s negotiating with Ryan Gosling to play the lead role of a young communications director who works for a fast rising presidential candidate. During the course of the campaign, the idealistic young man falls prey to the backstabbing and other dirty trickery of more seasoned rivals.
Gosling is in line to play a role once eyed by Leonardo DiCaprio when the Beau Willimon play was optioned by Warner Bros two years ago. Clooney already was eyeing it as a directing vehicle back then. Willimon worked for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential run, and his own experiences informed the play. Right now, Clooney and his Smokehouse Productions banner partner Grant Heslov are running point on the project. They aren’t saying where the money is coming from or who’ll distribute, but they are confident they will begin production in March.
Gosling is expected to be a factor in the Best Actor race, by merit of his performance opposite Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, the drama that will be distributed by The Weinstein Company.
Men in Black 3 is casting up. I’m told that Emma Thompson will be taking a lead role of Oh, the head of MIB. She’ll join Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin in the Barry Sonnenfeld-directed film for Sony Pictures Entertainment. She’s negotiating. Principal photography begins in mid-November.
EXCLUSIVE: Lifetime has handed out a pilot order to Meet Jane, a drama from writer Andi Bushell and executive turned producer Mark Pedowitz. This is the first pilot order for Pedowitz, who segued into producing early this year with a first-look deal for his Pine Street Entertainment at Warner Bros TV. Before that, he spent 19 years at Disney-ABC, including a stint at ABC Studios which he ran as president for 5 years until he was pushed out by Steve McPherson.
Meet Jane centers on Jane Bilinksi, whose stale life as an unhappily married mother of two daughters in the Washington, DC area is suddenly re-energized and empowered when the FBI enlists her to spy on her husband, a computer technician the government suspects is selling top-secret information to Russia. Bushell wrote Meet Jane on spec and will executive produce the pilot with Pedowitz. Warner Horizon is producing.
Bushell serves as a co-executive producer on the new ABC drama My Generation. Her resume also includes writer-producer gigs on CBS’ The Mentalist and Criminal Minds and NBC’s Crossing Jordan. This is Lifetime’s fourth pilot order this year. The other 3 pilots, Against the Wall, Exit 19 and an untitled Josh Berman project, are in various stages of casting.
Oxygen Media has ordered a new docu-series starring socialite and tabloid fixture Paris Hilton from veteran reality producer Arthur Smith (Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares). Here is the show’s official description: “With Hollywood on one side and real life on the other, this series follows Paris and four important women in her life, through all of their ups and downs, loves gained and lost, marriages, kids, divorce and more, revealing a lively group of dynamic individuals.” The 4 women are: Paris’s friend Brooke Mueller, Charlie Sheen’s wife and mother to his twin boys; Paris’s friend Jennifer Rovero, former Playboy model who once dated Fred Durst; Paris’ friend and fellow socialite Allison Melnick; and Paris’s mom, Kathy. The series is being produced by A. Smith & Co. and executive produced by the company’s founders Arthur Smith and Kent Weed, as well as Paris Hilton, Rick Hilton and Jamie Freed.
After a bidding war, Fox has handed out a put pilot commitment to Connected, a single-camera family comedy from from American Dad! executive producer Nahnatchka Khan and documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler. Khan will write and executive produce the project, an edgy family comedy about two families linked by their teens’ romantic relationship. She will executive produce with Cutler and Mosaic’s Ann Blanchard. Connected is produced by 20th Century Fox TV where Khan is under an overall deal.
Khan, who has been on Dad! since the beginning, has both live-action and animation background. She got her start in kids animated series at Walt Disney TV Animation after graduating from USC’s film school. She worked her way into primetime with gigs on such series as Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle, WB’s What I Like About You and NBC’s Good Morning, Miami. This represents Cutler’s first major foray into scripted TV. In February, the documentarian and reality producer inked a first-look deal with 20th TV’s corporate sibling Fox TV Studios with a focus on scripted development.
EXCLUSIVE: Writer Sascha Penn has landed 2 premium script deals: one at Fox for Unknown, a drama with Brett Ratner attached to executive produce, and one at the CW for Confessions of a Back-Up Dancer with Marcos Siega attached to direct and produce. The CW pact is now being finalized.
Unknown is described as an action series in the vein of The Fugitive that follows a man on a journey to discover who he really is. Penn wrote it on spec, which Martha Haight, president of Rat TV, took to Bert Salke, the recently appointed president of 20th TV’s division Fox21. Fox21 is producing the Fox project, which is eyed to film abroad, possibly in China. Ratner is executive producing with Penn serving as co-exec producer.
Confessions of a Back-Up Dancer, from Warner Bros. TV and Alloy Entertainment, is an adaptation of Alloy’s young adult novel by Tucker Shaw. Penn is writing the project, which explores the glamorous and gritty behind-the-scenes world of a major pop tour from the point of view of the star’s troupe of backing dancers. The show’s producing team includes Alloy’s Les Morgenstein and Gina Girolamo, Penn and Siega. This is the second consecutive year that CW, Warner Bros. and Alloy are developing a series adaptation of Confessions. Last year, it was written by The L Word creator Ilene Chaiken and didn’t go to pilot. Siega, … Read More »
Paramount has restructured its Licensing and Consumer Products division. They’ve laid off 53 people worldwide and will save $10 million annually. Here is the memo just issued:
To: Paramount Employees
From: Frederick Huntsberry and Rob Moore
Date: Sept. 30, 2010
We wanted to inform you of a number of changes we are making to better manage our overall business, as well as make our reporting structure more rational and efficient. Effective today, we are restructuring four of our divisions and realigning the responsibilities of several senior executives. The key changes are as follows:
· Licensing and Consumer Products will now be merged into Motion Picture Promotions and overseen by LeeAnne Stables, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Partnerships.
· The development and production of feature films made for home entertainment and digital platforms are being consolidated under Tom Lesinski in his role as President of Paramount Digital Entertainment.
· The distribution of motion pictures on digital platforms will now be handled by Hal Richardson, President of Paramount Pictures Worldwide Television Distribution.
This realignment will result in a staff reduction of 53 positions worldwide. The new structure outlined above will advance our ongoing goal of eliminating redundancy, rationalizing similar business lines, and optimizing our work force and cost structure.
The hard work and talent of the employees whose positions are affected by this change
… Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Will Smith and James Lassiter’s Overbrook Entertainment and The Proposal writer Pete Chiarelli are behind a series adaptation of the hit 2005 romantic comedy Hitch, which has several networks bidding on it. Chiarelli will pen the series project, described as an action-packed one-hour, for Sony Pictures TV. The movie, which Overbrook co-produced with Sony’s Columbia Pictures, starred Smith as a date doctor. This marks the TV debut for Chiarelli who also is penning Most Wanted, an upcoming action comedy, which reunites him with The Proposal stars Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds and director Anne Fletcher. Overbrook and Sony TV first took a stab at adapting Hitch to series 3 seasons ago when it was developed as a half-hour single-camera comedy written by Ben Wexler that was set up at CBS but didn’t go to pilot.
I’ve often wondered why William Fichtner isn’t a household name since his face is so recognizable and his acting is always memorable. He came over to Paradigm from Gersh. Fichtner recently wrapped filming on Summit’s Drive Angry 3D penned by Paradigm clients Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer.
EXCUSIVE: Denis Leary and Jim Serpico’s Apostle is branching out into management. The duo’s New York-based film and TV production company is launching Apostle Management, whose main focus will be shaping up the careers of stand-up comedians who aspire to perform, write and direct their own material. “In this digital era, we will lend both our creative and production experience to help our clients achieve their potential,” Serpico said, adding that he and Leary are looking to tap into the “many resources and talented people” of New York City. To do that, Apostle has brought in veteran New York-based comedy representative Conan Smith. “I just like the idea of having a guy named Conan in my office,” Leary quipped. “We actually had hired Conan O’Brien but then TBS made him a slightly better offer so – mark my words – one day when you hear the name Conan you will think of Conan Smith.”
Smith spent 15 years with William Morris and was involved in the creation of the agency’s comedy department in New York, which he ultimately ended up heading. The department’s clients have included Ray Romano, Jon Stewart, Kevin James, Robert Klein, Colin Quinn and Tom Papa. Smith also spent two years at Endeavor before segueing into producing in 2007. Leary and Serpico launched Apostle in 1994. The company, which just inked a two-year overall deal with Fox TV Studios … Read More »
Anderson Cooper has signed a deal to host a new one-hour NYC-based daily daytime strip for Warner Bros Domestic Television Distribution, set for national syndication launch in Fall 2011. This should be very successful: one week, I caught Cooper co-hosting with Kelly Ripa — and he was a natural. Cooper will continue to anchor CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360″ airing weeknights at 10 PM ET. And, geez, is troubled CNN relieved he’s staying even though his ratings have plummeted. Luckily, both CNN and Warner Bros TV syndication sit under the same Time Warner banner. Said Jim Walton, the president of CNN Worldwide, “I am pleased that Anderson Cooper has extended his relationship with CNN and will be with us for years to come. I am also pleased to congratulate Anderson on his new relationship with Telepictures. We think it will be good for Anderson, good for CNN and good for Time Warner.” And Cooper had this to say, “I remain as committed as ever to my program on CNN, and will be with CNN for years to come.” Here’s the news release: Read More »