Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, the film and TV facility the major owns outside of London, is to be officially inaugurated today during a visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. At the same time, and in partnership with BAFTA, the studio is announcing the Prince William Scholarships in Film, Television and Games. Three students per year will receive £10,000 to study a post-graduate course. The studio is also setting up a new training program which it will launch in September. Warner Bros. Creative Talent will include 12 scholarships; six apprenticeships and two trainee positions on every Warner Bros. film produced in the UK; 25 training course spots at theater company Chickenshed; 20 work experience placements; and five work placements on Sam Mendes’ upcoming West End musical, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Warner says the program is part of its “long-term commitment to the UK’s creative industries.” The studio has been in business in the UK for many years and most lucratively with the Harry Potter films, all of which were shot at Leavesden. Warner purchased the facility outright in 2010 and invested £100M in its expansion. It also houses The Warner Bros Studio Tour London – The Making Of Harry Potter, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movies that’s housed just next to the main lot.
EXCLUSIVE: Rocket Pictures has set commercials director Michael Gracey to helm Rocketman, the biographical musical film about Sir Elton John. I’ve told you about this one before. There is a script in by Billy Elliot‘s Lee Hall, and Gracey will direct a feature that follows John’s journey from 5-year old musical prodigy who by age 11 won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, to a young man who rebelled against his strict upbringing, wore outrageous costumes and became a global icon who teamed with songwriter Bernie Taupin to sell more records that just about any musical artist of his era. “Michael has an innovative, imaginative and compelling vision for the film,” said Rocket CEO Steve Hamilton Shaw. “We want to create an experience that surprises and moves audiences and knew immediately that he was the perfect director to take them on this journey.”
He directed the highest-grossing James Bond movie of all time, but with a full dance card, Skyfall helmer Sam Mendes has told Empire Magazine that he will not return to the 007 franchise for the next installment. “It has been a very difficult decision not to accept Michael and Barbara’s very generous offer to direct the next Bond movie,” he said. “Directing Skyfall was one of the best experiences of my professional life, but I have theater and other commitments including productions of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and King Lear, that need my complete focus over the next year and beyond.” Mendes is also working with Skyfall co-writer John Logan on psychosexual horror series, Penny Dreadful, for Showtime with production eyed to begin in London in the second half of the year. Logan is penning the next two Bond pictures.
Producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli didn’t rule out the possibility of working with the director again, however. “We thoroughly enjoyed working with Sam, he directed our most successful Bond movie ever, Skyfall. We would have loved to have made the next film with him, but completely respect his decision to focus on other projects and hope to have the opportunity to collaborate with him again,” they said.
David Konow contributes to Deadline.
With the Writers Guilds West and East tonight presenting their awards to last year’s most respected practitioners of the craft, it’s a perfect occasion for Deadline to examine the cottage industry of screenwriting conventions, expos, coverage services, and pitchfests. They’re supposed to help writers learn their craft and get their scripts out into the world. It goes without saying that this is a hot button issue in Hollywood. “Those who can’t write, teach seminars.” That’s what John August, screenwriter of Big Fish, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, and Corpse Bride posted on his website under the category of ‘So-Called Experts’. As he further elaborates to Deadline, “Most seminars feel like scams, and pitchfests give me nightmares. I don’t know any movies that have come out of them. The important thing to remember is that pitching only means something when the person hearing your pitch already thinks you’re a good writer.”
Yes, the business of screenwriting will always attract shysters willing to prey on people with a dollar and a dream. Yes, there are many people who talk a similar rhetoric about ‘paradigms’ and ‘character arcs’ so it all feels like a con or cult built around scripting for showbiz. But some people must find it all useful, right?
Though it’s not clear when the industry around screenwriting may have started, but some feel it grew exponentially in the late 1980s after the Writers Strike. “The industry pipelines were dry and million dollar spec sales were the order of the day,” recalls Den Shewman, former editor in chief of Creative Screenwriting. “I still remember agents Alan Gasmer and Rob Carlson having some kind of uber sale competition, each scoring a million dollar spec sale a month.” Not to mention the big script paydays Shane Black and Joe Eszterhas which became the stuff of wannabe movie writers’ dreams. As recently as last fall, the well-known Black List launched a pay service for unrepresented screenwriters to have their work analyzed by industry professionals. Its first over-the-transom success story wasn’t: the scripter Justin Kremer (McCarthy) had previously been an intern there. On the other hand, Kremer had uploaded his script to the site and paid for a single read. When the screenplay got a high score, it was included in the site’s weekly member email spotlighting the highest rated scripts. After dozens of downloads from Black List industry members and more ratings from those who read it, McCarthy became the site’s highest-rated uploaded script. That’s when Kremer, who’d gone to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and graduated from the Dramatic Writing Conservatory at the State University of New York/Purchase, was signed by CAA.
It goes without saying to let the buyer beware when looking for a pitchfest, coverage company, or screenwriting teacher. “There were a lot of people in early 2000, even now, who decided to hang up a shingle and call themselves an expert,” warns Jim Cirile of the script coverage company Coverage Ink. “There’s 87 coverage companies out there right now. How many of them are run by people who’ve had a studio deal or have sold anything? How many of them are run by some college kid who figures he can make a couple of extra bucks by reading a screenplay?” InkTip’s Gato Scatena adds, “Before we allow someone to come in and teach at our seminars, we do vet them out and call referrals.”
It’s believed that pitchfests, where you meet face to face with industry professionals and try to sell your idea, started back in 1996 with the Writer’s Network. The argument for pitchfests is the supposed access you get to people who can potentially sign you or buy you. “It’s one thing to send out query letters. It’s another thing to literally get in an executive’s face and try to sell them on yourself,” says Cirile. “It’s a really fast way of opening some doors for yourself, and you get an unprecedented level of access.”
“Screenwriting is one art form. Getting out there and networking is a completely different art form,” says Gato Scatena, VP of Marketing at InkTip, a networking and pitching company. “Learning how to pitch, learning how to be comfortable in front of strangers, all of these things are important. It’s good to meet other screenwriters, it’s good to meet other executives, it’s good to meet assistants.”
Erik Bauer, who founded Creative Screenwriting Magazine, says the access you get to industry people at a pitchfest “would be very difficult for writers to arrange on their own. And some writers and filmmakers make good use of that access, showing trailers for their movies, and making contacts that helped them in their careers.”
Jack Epps Jr., who wrote Top Gun and Dick Tracy with the late Jim Cash, and who also teaches screenwriting at USC, says, “The expos that are well run bring in really good people, and it allows a very wide range of the public to take screenwriting classes. And for the cost, the access is pretty good.”
So those are the pros. But the first con is the costs, which can be $200-$500 a weekend and more if you’re traveling in from out of town. The second con is that pitchfests rarely produce made movies or even films in development. “I don’t think there’s been any big spec sales that’s come from any of these that I’m aware of,” says Cirile. “What happens more often is you make connections that help down the line.”
Anthony D’Alessandro is Managing Editor of AwardsLine
In the final stretch before the Oscar ballot deadline, there’s still hope that voters remain undecided in the animation category. Though Disney has cornered the Oscar slot with three titles, its Frankenweenie, directed by Tim Burton, stands as an island against the epic Brave and the existential crisis comedy of Wreck-It Ralph. The film is an auteur’s youthful dream short, once buried by the studio that has resuscitated it as a 3D stopmotion feature — the first in black and white. This Frankenstein homage about a boy who brings his dead dog back to life is signature Tim Burton. Many will argue Burton is overdue for an Oscar. He was nominated in the animated category for 2005’s Corpse Bride. His 1994 absurdist biopic Ed Wood garnered a supporting actor win for Martin Landau (as Bela Lugosi) and best makeup, while 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street won best art direction and earned noms for Johnny Depp as best actor and for Colleen Atwood’s costumes. Another appealing Burton attribute for Oscar voters is that he remains an iconoclast among big-studio directors working today — he’s a visual artist with a spooky canon that appears alienating with its deep subtext but lures the masses with its fanciful spins on children’s tales such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland. AwardsLine recently spoke to Burton about his career and Frankenweenie’s place in it.
AwardsLine: Why was this the best time to make Frankenweenie as a stopmotion feature. You could have conceivably made it in 1993 instead of Nightmare Before Christmas.
Tim Burton: All these projects take a long time. I remember when I first designed Nightmare, it took about 10 years to get that in place because nobody really wanted to do stopmotion, and in a way, there weren’t a lot of facilities that were doing it. We did the Frankenweenie short many years ago, and I never really planned on it being anything else. Over the years, I just kept kind of thinking about the relationship with my dog, but also other monster movies, the kids and teachers from my school, and even the downtown places in Burbank. A lot more thoughts came into Frankenweenie,
The six-part video series Behind The Ballot that launched today on Oscar.com features panels of experts breaking down what Oscar voters look for in contenders for Production Design, Cinematography, Makeup & Hairstyling, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Costume Design. In the seemingly endless chatter about the marquee categories during an awards season that seems to get longer every year, it’s a refreshing initiative that shines a light on the behind-the-scenes folks that form the backbone of the year’s best movies. A new video will debut each week — the lead-off panel is Cinematography, which features a chat with DPs Daryn Okada, Theo van de Sande and Mandy Walker (check it out below). Here’s the full lineup announced today by the Academy:
Next season on London’s West End is shaping up to be a who’s who of British talent. Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Daniel Radcliffe, Ben Whishaw and Jude Law are all starring in plays and Whishaw and Dench’s Skyfall director Sam Mendes is prepping a musical production of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. James McAvoy is the latest to commit to walking the boards, taking on the title role in Macbeth which veteran theater director Jamie Lloyd is mounting as part of the Trafalgar Transformed season. McAvoy has played Macbeth before, albeit in a modernized BBC version in which the Scottish lord was transformed into a top chef. He was last on stage in 2009′s Three Days Of Rain, which Lloyd also directed. He’ll next be seen on screen in Danny Boyle’s Trance and is reprising his role of a young Charles Xavier in Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past. In a growing trend to reach out to wider audiences,
EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros has acquired Boston Strangler, a thriller pitch about the desperate search for the murderer who terrorized the Boston area during the early 1960s. Kevin McCormick‘s Warner-based Langley Park shingle will produce, and the pitch was bought from Casey Affleck and fellow Boston native screenwriter Chuck Maclean. Affleck hopes to star as one of the detectives who were part of the Strangler Squad responsible for solving the crime, and he will be exec producer.
The script will be written by Maclean, whose script Bridges On The Fort Point Channel made the 2011 Black List and who is writing Storming Las Vegas for Summit. With a tone similar to Se7en and Zodiac, they will cover the most haunting unsolved serial murder story in U.S. history. While Albert DeSalvo was convicted of crimes unrelated to the Boston Strangler case, the public was spun to believe he was the man behind the 13 gruesome murders of women in Boston for over a year and a half. There is still belief that more than one killer was involved, and that DeSalvo was a pawn in a bigger conspiracy.
Looking to expand its TV slate, Neal Street Productions has appointed BBC director of UK drama Nicolas Brown as a company director. He will start his job early next year and take a seat on the Neal Street board alongside founders Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris and Caro Newling. At the BBC since 2006, Brown this year took responsibility for the delivery of all BBC network drama including EastEnders, Silent Witness, The Paradise and Luther. Prior to joining the BBC, he was a producer in his own right and recently executive produced two short films for Danny Boyle’s Olympics Opening Ceremony — notably one in which Daniel Craig’s James Bond escorts Queen Elizabeth II to the Olympic stadium via helicopter. At Neal Street, he’ll work with Skyfall director Mendes and Harris on both film and TV projects. In the past year, Neal Street’s Call The Midwife was the BBC’s highest-rated new drama ever. The 1950s-set series recently completed a successful run on PBS in the U.S.
Global Showbiz Briefs: News Corp Spinoff, ‘Homeland’ Vs. Beirut, Joe Wright On West End, Josh Berger, ‘The Audience’ In Canada
News’ Publishing Co. Valued at $10.2B by Australian Broker
After News Corp. splits in two next year, the publishing company will be worth $A10.2B assuming it’s debt-free, according to Australian broker CBA. That’s a much higher valuation than earlier estimates due to the $2B acquisition of Australia’s Consolidated Media Holdings, which gives News full ownership of Fox Sports channels and boosts its stake in pay-TV platform Foxtel. The publishing company, which will house Foxtel, its 61% stake in Realestate.com and 44% of Sky New Zealand, will derive 75% of its pre-tax earnings from Australia, the broker said. It predicts Foxtel and Fox Sports will account for 46% of that unit’s pre-tax earnings in fiscal 2014, with newspapers and HarperCollins contributing 37%. CBA expects News to focus on lifting U.S. investors’ awareness of the non-publishing assets’ strong cash flow, probably involving a global roadshow next year. It values the entertainment company at $54.6B with an earnings margin of around 21%, close to Disney’s but much lower than Discovery’s. It assumes News’ net debt of $5.4B will be shouldered by the entertainment arm. -Don Groves
Lebanon Takes Issue With Its Image In ‘Homeland’
Lebanon is considering legal action against the award-winning American TV series Homeland for its portrayal of Beirut as a city riven with terrorists. In the second episode of the second season of the CIA thriller, shown on the UK’s Channel 4, millions of viewers watched the protagonists hunt terrorists through the narrow, dirty and dangerous streets of Beirut. But Lebanon’s minister of tourism Fady Abboud expressed outrage at the “serious misrepresentation” of the city, which once was considered the Paris of the Middle East. “I raised this at the cabinet meeting and the president asked the minister for justice and the minister of communications to see what can be done.” Abboud added “I am calling on all young Lebanese adults to do what they need to do; to write blogs, to call the BBC and CNN to try to raise awareness that Beirut is not a city of Kalashnikov and war.” In the show, Claire Danes’ character continuously dons the hijab, but women in the part of Beirut where the scene is set are more often seen in skin-tight jeans, bouffant hairdoes and Jimmy Choos. Abbout urges Lebanese “youths to splice images of the war-torn Hamra of Homeland with the real street.”
British actor Douglas Hodge will play candy/imagination impresario Willy Wonka in Sam Mendes‘ West End musical take on Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. The Warner Bros. Theatrical Ventures production is set to open next year. Hodge is currently starring in a Broadway revival of Cyrano De Bergerac and plays royal butler Paul Burrell in Oliver Hirschbiegel’s upcoming biopic Diana, opposite Naomi Watts. Mendes’ James Bond pic Skyfall opens Nov. 9 and he’ll begin previews of Charlie in London next May. New songs for the show are being penned by Smash and Hairspray duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Hodge is a prolific stage actor who won an Olivier, a Tony, a Drama Desk and an Outer Critics Circle Award for La Cage Aux Folles two years ago. His feature credits include 2010’s Robin Hood and 2004’s Vanity Fair. He was also just in BBC drama Bert & Dickie about the 1948 Olympic rowers Bert Bushnell and Dickie Burnell. Mendes’ Neal Street Productions and Kevin McCormick (Gangster Squad, Rent-A-Ghost) are also producing Charlie.
Freddie Highmore, who played the title role opposite Johnny Depp in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, is taking on a far more menacing character next. The young British actor has been cast to play Norman Bates opposite Vera Farmiga in in A&E’s upcoming series Bates Motel, which serves as a prequel to Alfred Hitchcock horror classic Psycho. The series examines the twisted relationship between serial-killer-to-be Bates and his mother Norma (Varmiga). This marks the U.S. series debut for Highmore, who also toplined the feature The Spiderwick Chronicles.
EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros has set Adam Wingard to direct and his partner Simon Barrett to rewrite Dead Spy Running, a fast-tracked project that is being produced by Kevin McCormick at Langley Park and McG’s Wonderland Sound And Vision. Based on the series of novels by Jon Stock, Dead Spy Running follows Danny Marchant, a young DJ on the rise in the international world of electronic dance music. Danny is forced to go on the run with a beautiful secret agent assigned to watch him after he is framed for his MI6 agent father’s murder. As Danny tries to clear his name and avenge his father’s death, he gets deeper into the world of espionage while never forgetting his background and skills as a DJ. Danny must ultimately rise up and defeat a terrorist intent on destroying western civilization in an adventure that takes him through the world to London, Paris, Corsica, New York, and Mumbai.
Barrett will rewrite the latest draft, with previous drafts done by Stephen Gaghan and Jamie Moss. CAA-repped Wingard and Barrett are best known for the micro-budget Toronto 2010 serial killer drama A Horrible Way To Die, which was released by Anchor Bay. They followed with Autoerotic and You’re Next, the latter of which Lionsgate will release next year. Wingard and Barrett also collaborated with producer Brad Miska to conceive the anthology film V/H/S, which premiered at 2012 Sundance, with Magnolia buying to release this fall.
I’m in shock and heartbroken at the news of Richard Zanuck’s passing. He was like family to me – a mentor, friend and father figure. Richard was a completely unique and amazing individual and there will never be anyone else like him. I’m too sad to speak more about it right now and need some time to mourn.
Related: R.I.P. Dick Zanuck
Others in Hollywood also are weighing in.
Legendary Hollywood film producer Richard Darryl Zanuck (aka Dick) died this morning of a heart attack at his Beverly Hills home. He was 77. Zanuck’s career spanned more than 50 years, continuing to this day. He most recently produced Dark Shadows, released by Warner Bros in May, bringing the cult television series to the big screen under the direction of frequent collaborator Tim Burton. The gothic comedy marked Zanuck’s sixth collaboration with Burton. Zanuck also produced the worldwide blockbusters Alice In Wonderland and Clash Of The Titans (both 2010) and of course Jaws (1975) alongside a young director named Steven Spielberg. Zanuck’s honors include a Best Picture Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy and the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1991 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which he shared with longtime associate David Brown.
In November 2010, Warner Bros acquired the Leavesden studios where all of its Harry Potter films had been shot. At the time, the studio said it would invest more than £100 million to rebuild and expand the London-adjacent facility to serve as its UK base. When I visited this winter, it was basically still a 200-acre construction site, but today the facility has officially opened. I’m told the studio is in discussions on a “major feature film” and a TV series as the first projects out of the gate to shoot at the new site. Scenes from Warner’s The Dark Knight Rises were shot there ahead of the revamp, but the studios will be open to all comers, not just in-house productions. Leavesden has already been attracting tourist attention with The Warner Bros Studio Tour London – The Making Of Harry Potter, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movies that’s housed just next to the main lot. A press release detailing the Leavesden studios follows:
UPDATE: This statement from Warner Bros chairman and CEO Barry Meyer just came across:
“Alan was a terrific partner in every sense of the word,” said Barry Meyer, Chairman and CEO, Warner Bros. “He has a profound understanding of the filmmaking process as well as the ability to bridge the creative and business sides of a studio. He’s been a part of some of the most popular films produced in the last decade, and we’re very happy for him. All of his colleagues at Warner Bros. wish him the best.”
BURBANK, Calif. – May 31, 2012 – Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, announced today that Alan Horn has been named Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios effective June 11. Horn will oversee worldwide operations for The Walt Disney Studios including production, distribution and marketing for live-action and animated films from Disney, Pixar and Marvel, as well as marketing and distribution for DreamWorks Studios films released under the Touchstone Pictures banner. Disney’s music and theatrical divisions will also report to Horn.
Horn has been a prominent figure in the film and television industry overseeing creative executive teams responsible for some of the world’s most successful entertainment properties including the Harry Potter film franchise and the hit television series Seinfeld among others.
“Alan not only has an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience in the business, he has a true appreciation of movie making as both an art and a business,” said Iger. “He’s earned the respect of the industry for driving tremendous, sustained creative and financial success, and is also known and admired for his impeccable taste and integrity. He brings all of this to his new role leading our studio group, and I truly look forward to working with him.”
“I’m incredibly excited about joining The Walt Disney Company, one of the most iconic and beloved entertainment companies in the world,” said Horn. “I love the motion picture business and look forward to making a contribution as part of Bob Iger’s team working closely with the dedicated and talented group at the studio.”
Horn was most recently President and COO of Warner Bros. Entertainment where he had oversight of the Studios’ theatrical and home entertainment operations, including the Warner Bros. Pictures Group, Warner Premiere (direct-to-platform production), Warner Bros. Theatrical Ventures (live stage) and Warner Home Video. During his 12 year tenure, Warner Bros. Studios was the global box office leader seven times.
BURBANK, CA, May 1, 2012 – Suzanne Fritz has been promoted to Senior Vice President, Domestic Publicity, for Warner Bros. Pictures, it was announced today by Sue Kroll, President, Worldwide Marketing.
Fritz will continue to help create and execute the domestic publicity campaigns for a wide range of feature films, reporting to Executive Vice President Juli Goodwin.
After an extensive search that included testing several young actresses for the role, Soul Surfer star AnnaSophia Robb has been cast as young Carrie Bradshaw in the CW drama pilot Carrie Diaries. The project, from Warner Bros TV and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s Fake Empire, is based on Candace Bushnell’s novel, a prequel to her best-seller Sex And The City that was adapted into the iconic HBO series. It chronicles Carrie’s coming of age in the 1980s when she asks her first questions about love, sex, friendship and family while exploring the worlds of high school and Manhattan. Amy Harris (Gossip Girl) wrote the script and is executive producing with Bushnell, Schwartz, Savage and Len Goldstein. The casting marks a homecoming of sorts for Robb, who got her first break on the CW’s predecessor the WB, where she was cast as the lead in the 2004 telefilm An American Girl. Coincidentally, that film was executive produced by Julia Roberts, whose niece, Emma Roberts, was also in contention for the role of Carrie. Robb, repped by CAA and Untitled, segued into a feature career with major roles in such movies as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Race To Witch Mountain, The Space Between and most recently the based-on-a-true story Soul Surfer, in which she portrayed the title character, teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm in a shark attack.