Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE DETAILS: A spate of reports of movement on The Terminator franchise is a good sign that the franchise is finally starting to percolate again. I’ve learned that each Ellison — David and Megan, both scions of Oracle chief Larry Ellison — will finance 33% of the film’s budget, with Paramount finding the remaining third. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself said yesterday during an appearance in Sydney that he’s coming back and the movie will start shooting in January. None of this is really a surprise: Back in December, Megan Ellison, who’d spent $20 million to buy The Terminator sequel rights during 2011 Cannes, partnered on the franchise with her brother David. She makes prestige films and he makes popcorn fare like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible sequels, so the union made sense. The Wrap claimed an exclusive that Paramount would be the distributor. Well, through Skydance Productions, David makes all his movies with Paramount, so it was kind of obvious the films would likely land there. Skydance and Paramount are just coming through the gigantic ordeal of making World War Z, which, despite a massive budget, looks like it will do some serious global business.

As for Schwarzenegger, he’s been attached since back in May 2011, when Megan Ellison beat out Lionsgate and paid around $20 million for the franchise. She bought it from Pacificor, which had paid $29.5 million to pull the property out of bankruptcy. The latest rumor is that Megan Ellison would make a hail mary pass attempt to draft her Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow. That would be a coup, but it’s being denied, which means either that it’s not true, or Bigelow passed already. The project has been director-less since Fast 6‘s Justin Lin bowed out of the project when it was being developed solely by Megan Ellison. I met Lin at Sundance and he made it clear he wouldn’t return because he was not involved in the development of the script. Ellison in January hired Avatar and Shutter Island‘s Laeta Kalogridis and My Bloody Valentine‘s  Patrick Lussier to write the script, so it stands to reason that the film should be ready to shoot by early next year.

The big shame in the almost three-year delay from the rights deal to that production start is that there is a ticking clocks that impacts the number of Terminator films that can be made. Franchise creator James Cameron — who has stayed on the sidelines since directing the first two classic films — is the beneficiary of changes in copyright law. Basically North American rights to the franchise revert back to him in 2019. That is because the copyright reversion now takes place after 35 years, and The Terminator was made in 1984. There should be no reason the Ellisons’ Annapurna Pictures and Skydance shouldn’t be able to make two sequels that end the human race’s battle against Skynet. But the original thought was that the film would span three pictures, and that might not be possible. No studio would roll the dice on that kind of potential quandary.

There is no telling if Cameron would consider lending the rights for more movies. He actually sold his rights in the picture to then-partner Gale Anne Hurd for $1, to ensure he would not be removed as the director. So even though he has made gazillions of dollars from Titanic and Avatar, cashing in on his signature project, the one he got screwed over on, might be symbolically important to him. On the other hand, none of the sequels were near as good as Cameron’s first two films, so he might just want to keep moving forward with his Avatar sequels and retire The Terminator in 2019. Arnold will be 71 by then so it might be euthanasia on Cameron’s part by then. No comment all around.