Mike Fleming

The hot project on the Sony Pictures lot right now is The Equalizer, after a script by Richard Wenk prompted the studio to expedite Denzel Washington’s deal and set an April 8 start date, likely in Boston. Washington was attached when this was mentioned as a development project last year as the studio extended by three years its first look deal with Escape Artists partners Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch. It has come a long way since then.

Washington’s deal is being closed right now and I’m told he’ll be getting his customary $20 million price, but that this is a smartly budget thriller that will come in around $50 million and is designed to launch the first franchise for the actor. Now, directors are lining up for the job. I’ve heard names on the studio’s list that include Pierre Morel, Nicolas Winding Refn, Gavin O’Connor and Gareth Evans. Insiders tell me that the studio is just now setting meetings and that there will be a bunch of them before a director is set.

The film is loosely based on the TV series that starred Edward Woodward as a mysterious former covert operations officer who helps people in trouble, and was created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim. The film has that basic premise but takes off in its own way, tailored to Washington’s skills. He’ll play a solitary, monastic figure who hates injustice and devotes himself to helping people who are being victimized. The film is being produced by Black, Blumenthal, Tisch, Alex Siskin, Mace Neufeld, Michael Sloan, Tony Eldridge. David Bloomfield is exec producer. Washington is repped by WME, Wenk by Gersh and Richard Arlook.

Washington continues to flourish in these mid-range budget dramas that studios seem afraid to make unless he is in them. He is coming off the hit Safe House and The Book of Eli, and will next be seen starring in the Robert Zemeckis-directed Oscar season entry Flight for Paramount. Washington is currently shooting 2 Guns with Mark Wahlberg, the Emmett/Furla-financed drama that will be released by Universal Pictures.