Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: While Arthur was a box office flop, Russell Brand has been staked to a first-look producing deal by Warner Bros. That studio has cut back as hard in recent years as any with its number of producer overhead deals, and slashed the ones that remain. But Brand becomes the latest case where the studio gives pacts to actors it primarily wants populating Warner Bros films. Warner Bros got aggressive on that front last year when it added deals with Robert Downey Jr., Ben Affleck/Matt Damon and Zac Efron, to go along with  pacts previously given to Steve Carell, Leonardo DiCaprio and a few others. It has become reminiscent of those days when the studio had a star stable with the likes of Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood (who, amazingly, is still there).

Brand will have a modest deal, but Warner Bros apparently hasn’t lost faith in him despite the disappointing returns on Arthur. The studio is bullish on two other comic vehicles that were acquired as star vehicles for Brand while the studio was making Arthur. One is an untitled laffer being scripted by William and Scott Bindley that would cast Brand as a David Beckham-like soccer player/playboy who gets arrested in Texas and draws the community-service gig of coaching the awful local high school team. The other is a remake of the British comedy show Rentaghost, in which Brand would play a spirit who starts a temp agency for the dead. One thing the studio has learned is that an entirely likable version of Brand isn’t necessarily the one audiences respond to. In the original Arthur, Dudley Moore was drunk the whole movie and picked up hookers. Brand played that kind of rascal in Get Him To The Greek and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but his Arthur was sanitized by comparison. Better off turning him loose next time and perhaps pairing him with another star.

The overall deals Warner Bros is making with actor-based companies is proving cost efficient, I’m told. Development costs aren’t that onerous, and those overhead costs get burned off if the actors make even one film and has a producing credit on it. Downey, who made his deal while working for the studio on Due Date and the Sherlock Holmes sequel, has the potential to be a significant supplier along with his wife Susan Downey. Their Team Downey has several projects already that the studio is eager to make if Downey stars in them. That includes the Steve McQueen-hatched treasure hunt movie Yucatan with Holmes scribe Anthony Peckham writing. There is also an untitled musical with script and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, who teamed on the Pulitzer Prize-winning rock opera Next To Normal, which won three Tony Awards. Downey will play one part of a Broadway team that recovers from a career-threatening flop by surfacing as counselors to the camp they attended as kids. Team Downey and Warner Bros also took over a long-gestating project involving Hunter Scott, who after watching Jaws as a high school student, researched the WWII sinking of the USS Indianapolis in shark-infested waters. The kid’s efforts helped to get the ship’s captain, Charles McVay, posthumously exonerated of blame. McVay, haunted by guilt, committed suicide in 1968. That project once had JJ Abrams circling to direct it, but it languished and Warner Bros quietly picked it up several months ago.

The Affleck/Damon deal has mostly been about Affleck so far. Together they are still developing the baseball wife swapping film The Trade, but Affleck followed up The Town by considering almost every plum script in the Warner Bros arsenal as directing and acting projects before he committed to direct the Iran hostage pic Argo. Carell’s Carousel Productions brought in the upcoming Dan Fogelman-scripted Crazy, Stupid, Love, which Warner Bros releases July 29 and expects to be a hit. Efron is starring in the Nicholas Sparks adaptation The Lucky One as his company tries to develop other vehicles for him, as the studio waits for him to pop as an adult. These deals are easier to handle for the studio than some producing pacts, where producers submit every script they can get from agencies, and shackle studios with the packaging fee that agencies routinely tack on when they commission producers who’ve been given the scripts. 

As for the rest of its producer deals, Warner Bros has cut its pacts down to a few directors like Eastwood, Todd Phillips, Zack Snyder and Greg Berlanti, with an informal deal with the most important of them all, Chris Nolan. The studio has a list of term producers but leans heaviest on Donald De Line, Denise DiNovi, Joel Silver, Akiva Goldsman, David Heyman and former execs like Dan Lin, Kevin McCormick, Lionel Wigram and Basil Iwanyk.

For all of Deadline's headlines, follow us @Deadline on Twitter.