BREAKING: Even as Jeff Berg was locking down an investment in the agency this week from Beijing-based Bison Capital, rumors raced that other less desirable shakeups were about to happen. We are hearing that veteran motion picture agents Adam …
EXCLUSIVE: Writer-director Mike Flanagan and Intrepid Pictures’ Trevor Macy are reteaming on the supernatural thriller Diver, setting a summer production start. Flanagan will direct a script by Diane Ademu-John and Carter Blanchard with revisions by Flanagan and writing partner Jeff Howard. Macy will produce the film, with Marc D. Evans, Asha Kurian, and Julie Wilke also serving in various producing capacities.
Diver revolves around a secret project based in New Orleans that involves a team sent to enter the minds of the recently dead to experience their final memories in order to solve the most heinous crimes. When the Divers breach the barrier between the living and the dead, they must contend with the supernatural force they unleash.
EXCLUSIVE: Level 1 Entertainment, which had set Michael Steinberger’s wine counterfeiting Vanity Fair article A Vintage Crime as a dramatic feature, is being rebottled. The story will be told as a documentary to be helmed by Barry Avrich. His docus include The Last Mogul on Lew Wasserman, Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story and Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life Of Garth Drabinsky.
A Vintage Crime focuses on the exploits of wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan, who drove the elite and secretive world of rare-wine collectors into a frenzy with his extravagant showmanship and record-setting deals. Kurniawan conned the biggest players in the fine wine market, including prominent tycoons and entertainment moguls, before he made the mistake that ultimately led to his arrest and the discovery of a wine counterfeiting factory in his suburban Los Angeles home. Charged with mail and wire fraud in connection with the sale of fake rare wines, Kurniawan was convicted in a Manhattan federal court last month and is now facing up to 40 years in jail.
EXCLUSIVE: Idris Elba is in final negotiations to perform the role and provide the voice of the killer tiger Shere Khan in Disney’s live-action take on The Jungle Book. Directed by Jon Favreau, the film is a mix of live action and VFX that is being overseen by Rob Legato, whose VFX credits include Avatar, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Hugo and Titanic, the latter two of which won him Oscars. The studio has bolstered its creative team by setting as its production designers Alex McDowell (Man Of Steel, Rise Of The Guardians) and Chris Glass heading a team of concept artists that includes Michael Kutsche (Alice, Oz, Maleficent), Iain McCaig (Star Wars), and Justin Sweet (Chronicles Of Narnia). The story team is headed by Iron Man‘s David Lowery, who’s working around the clock with seven full-time illustrators, with Legacy Effects participating in creature design and rigging.
Disney is moving very quickly as it is in a race with Warner Bros on versions of Rudyard Kipling’s public domain title. The rival project is still looking for a director after Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu dropped from the project.
EXCLUSIVE: Screen Gems has signed on to distribute The Last Of Us, a live-action adaptation of the PlayStation 3 vidgame from Naughty Dog. Neil Druckmann, the Creative Director for the game, will write the script. The creative architects will be Naughty Dog co-presidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra, as well as Druckmann and Game Director Bruce Straley. They’ll team with Sam Raimi and his Ghost House Pictures banner.
The logline: Hardened survivor Joel teams with young and capable companion Ellie to journey through a radically transformed world some 20 years after an infectious pandemic ravages humanity. The game has won numerous awards and has been a big seller since its release last summer.
“Screen Gems’ Brian Dukes and Eric Ling brought this game to my attention insisting we go after it, and when I saw the quality of the storytelling, I knew the audience for this project was far greater than just the gaming community and that Neil Druckmann must write the screenplay,” Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper said. “I am thrilled that SCEA’s Riley Russell was able to get me in front of Neil and Evan Wells to plead my case. Sam and his team at Ghost House round out the perfect team to help realize Neil’s vision.”
EXCLUSIVE: Halle Berry and producing partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas have christened a new company that has come out of the Oscar-winning actress’ decision to star in the CBS series Extant. They’ve hatched 606 Films, a shingle that will be housed at CBS Television Studios and is named for the anti-paparazzi bill that Berry championed to keep over-aggressive shutterbugs from harassing the children of celebrities. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law last fall after testimony by Berry, Jennifer Garner and others.
Berry and Goldsmith-Thomas have hired Kathryn Tyus-Adair to be SVP of 606 Films. She moves from Don Cheadle’s Crescendo Productions where she spent five years working on TV and film projects including the upcoming St. Vincent. She has also worked as development exec for Robert Redford, Curtis Hanson and George Tillman Jr in projects that include The Horse Whisperer, A Civil Action, Barbership and the Showtime series Soul Food. CAA reps the new company.
The production deal came as part of the deal for Berry to be co-executive producer and star of Extant, a new series that will premiere July 2 on CBS, a co-production between CBS Television Studios and Amblin Television. The series is exec produced by Steven Spielberg, Greg Walker, Mickey Fisher (who wrote the pilot), Brooklyn Weaver, Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank.
EXCLUSIVE: For years, I’ve been writing about all the futility involved in attempts to bring the life of iconic civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr to the screen. So here’s a big one. I’m hearing that David Simon, the architect of the HBO series The Wire, Homicide and most recently Treme, will spearhead the HBO six-hour miniseries adaptation of America: In The King Years, based on the celebrated book trilogy by Pulitzer Prize-winner Taylor Branch. Just as will happen with the Ava DuVernay-directed Selma, Oprah Winfrey will be backing this project as well in a producing capacity.
Winfrey’s Harpo banner originally set up the three books at HBO in 2010 with the plan that it would be overseen by The Kentucky Cycle playwright Robert Schenkkan. While I’ve been trying to confirm the Simon part to no avail at HBO for weeks, I’m told reliably that Simon has assured Branch that he is taking on the project, which instantly becomes a beachhead project for HBO, covering King and his relationships with Lyndon Johnson, John F and Robert Kennedy, as well as the freedom rides, the Birmingham and Selma campaigns, and the poor people’s march on Washington that he was organizing when he was killed in Memphis. It is the perfect venue to tell the story of King’s long struggle.
I’ve heard that Simon will write at least the first episode, as well as the bible for the entire mini. He and Treme co-creator Eric Overmyer will see the entire mini through completion. This is a broad canvas, spanning Branch’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Parting The Waters, as well as Pillar Of Fire and At Canaan’s Edge.
Focus Makes $20 Million P&A Deal For River Road, Participant And Lionsgate Intl-Funded Juan Antonio Bayona-Helmed ‘A Monster Calls’
EXCLUSIVE: In the third huge pre-buy deal this year, Focus Features is committing $20 million in P&A to release A Monster Calls, a film that will be financed by River Road Entertainment and Participant Media. The film will be the next directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, who helmed the tsunami film The Impossible and made his breakthrough on The Orphanage. The film is an adaptation of the children’s fantasy novel series by Patrick Ness and it is already on course to begin production this fall for release in 2016. The novel focuses on a young lad who tries to deal with school bullies and his mother’s illness by losing himself into a vivid world of monsters and fairy tales. Ness adapted his own prize-winning work.
In the configuration taking shape, Focus releases the film wide domestically and Universal Pictures International releases in Spain. Lionsgate International is a key piece of this puzzle, as Patrick Washsberger’s troops will sell all other world territories. Producing is Belen Atienza, who teamed with Bayona on his films and produced Pan’s Labyrinth. Bill Pohlad’s River Road is coming off the Best Picture for 12 Years A Slave, and I’m told Pohlad and his team will exec produce with Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll and his team, along with Wachsberger.
This becomes the first major deal for Peter Schlessel since James Schamus and Andrew Karpen left Focus and Schlessel merged his FilmDistrict shingle in the company and took the reins. While Bayona is separately attached to helm a sequel to the zombie saga World War Z 2, this film will come first.
Fox Revives ‘West Side Story’ For Steven Spielberg As Town Ponders Stacey Snider Move And DreamWorks’ Future
ANALYSIS: Even though the Robert Wise original musical West Side Story is about as sacred a cow movie as you are going to find, Fox has unlocked that movie title for a remake specifically because Steven Spielberg is interested in making it. No writer has been set yet and Spielberg hasn’t done anything more than register his interest, which traditionally has always been enough to get a studio hot and bothered. Between this project and the Fox/DreamWorks team-up Robopocalypse, the Daniel H. Wilson sci-fi novel that has a Drew Goddard script and which Spielberg has said he will direct even though he stepped away to make Lincoln, it would be easy to see Spielberg directing movies at Fox for the next several years if in fact Stacey Snider makes a move to that studio after her contract expires at year’s end.
That’s just part of why the town sees Snider’s move over there as such an easy transition. It is an easier fit than when Jeff Robinov eyed Fox at a landing place but he did not want to report to Jim Gianopulos, who likes calling the shots after sharing power so long with Tom Rothman. Snider is apparently willing to do that and she has a lot of experience to offer managing a studio pipeline, skills that are rusting with DreamWorks’ comparatively small output.
Robinov is now well on his way to finding his money to start a company that will allow him to take big swings at Sony, and I’ve heard that there’s a good chance the bulk of that investment will come from Len Blavatnik, the Ukraine-born billionaire whose worth has been pegged at north of $17 billion. What better way for a man with that kind of money to jump into the perilous Hollywood movie business than with Gravity and Argo architect Robinov and the distribution and marketing might of Sony Pictures?
After a strong run when DreamWorks was sold to Paramount, a nasty divorce that left behind plum properties like the Transformer series, a near move to Snider’s past home Universal, and the Reliance financing/Disney arrangement which has been stepped down and has hobbled the company, I can easily imagine this finally calling a halt to the great DreamWorks experiment. The one that started with Jeffrey Katzenberg being denied the crown at the Mouse House by Disney’s Michael Eisner, and then joined into building what was to become the next great major studio by his pals Spielberg and David Geffen. I look at the recent crop of DreamWorks films, from the upcoming Need For Speed, the good but disappointing at the box office flop The Fifth Estate and the solid hit The Help, and DreamWorks just seems like an ordinary production company to me. That certainly didn’t have to be the case if the supremely ambitious principals hadn’t made all those deals that disrupted the company and instead stayed a solid course from the beginning and kept building a company on a consistent track.