EXCLUSIVE: Felicity Jones is making a deal to star in A Monster Calls, the Juan Antonio Bayona-directed adaptation of the Patrick Ness children’s fantasy novel. I’ve heard that she will play the character of Mum, and that the filmmakers are courting …
EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures has found what the studio believes will be its next global franchise. The studio has closed a partnership with Mattel and Parkes+MacDonald/Image Nation on a live-action comedy built around Barbie, the top-selling fashion doll. This is no development deal, it’s all moving very quickly. Studio chief Amy Pascal oversaw this deal herself, along with production president Hannah Minghella, and this movie is getting made. Jenny Bicks is writing the script and the intention is to begin production before year’s end.
The film will be produced by Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, who are also rebooting Men In Black for the studio. The exec producers are Parkes+MacDonald president Marc Resteghnini and Julia Pistor for Mattel’s Playground Productions.
Studios prize franchises more than ever, and it is particularly a priority at Sony. The key to turning these brands into successful films comes down to execution, as was particularly evident in the way that Warner Bros turned The Lego Movie into something with a high cool factor for kids. The plan for Barbie is also clever. Some of the doll’s appeal has been cool clothes and of course Ken, but beyond accessorizing, the toy has always been about female empowerment. Barbie has been part of merchandise packages that span over 150 careers, and Bicks and Parkes and MacDonald won the rights from Mattel when they plugged into that with their pitch for a contemporary tale. It allows the character Barbie to use her personal and professional skills to step into the lives of others and improve them, almost like a modern-day Mary Poppins. That storyline allows for the discovery of a young actress to play the title character, and young cast to play Ken and Barbie’s best friend, putting stars around them that can change in subsequent movies. Much the way that Marvel has managed its costs with deals that call for options on future films as they create stars with their superhero movies, this seems a way to keep costs manageable for another live-action series meant to span multiple films.
EXCLUSIVE: Relativity has closed a 7-figure deal for U.S. distribution rights to Hector And The Search For Happiness, the Peter Chelsom-directed comedy that stars Simon Pegg, Toni Collette, Rosamund Pike, Stllan Skarsgard, Jean Reno and Christopher Plummer. Relativity has dated the film for a September 26 platform opening, expanding wider on October 3. The script was written by Maria von Heland, Chelsom & Tinker Lindsay.
The film is based on the bestselling novel by François Lelord, and Pegg plays a disillusioned psychiatrist searching the globe to find the secret to happiness. The film is a co-production between Egoli Tossell Film, Erfttal Film and Screen Siren Pictures film, in association with Head Gear Films and Film House Germany. It was produced with the participation of Telefilm Canada, the German Federal Film Board (FFA), Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF). It was co-produced by Wild Bunch Germany and Construction Film. The producers are Judy Tossell, Klaus Dohle, Christine Haebler and Trish Dolman, with Phil Hunt, Compton Ross and Christian Angermayer.
EXCLUSIVE: Morgan Spurlock‘s production company Warrior Poets has partnered with indie distributors Virgil Films and Abramorama to form the label Morgan Spurlock Presents. The plan is to acquire and release distinctive fiction and documentary features theatrically and on cable VOD. Two films are first up under the new venture and will be released this year: A Brony Tale, the docu that premieres Saturday at Tribeca and centers on the cultural phenomenon of men obsessed with Hasbro’s My Little Pony, the magical talking horse toys. It is set for a July bow. The other is Two: The Story Of Roman & Nyro, from Heather Winters, the exec producer of Spurlock’s Oscar-nominated breakout docu Super-Size Me. It follows rock songwriter Desmond Child and his longtime partner Curtis Shaw Child as they raise their two sons.
Related: Tribeca Trailer: ‘A Brony Tale’
Under the model, films the companies discover that have targeted audiences but that otherwise might be overlooked will be released via the label in 20-30 theatrical markets just before cable VOD bows.
EXCLUSIVE: When seasoned agents leave one major percentery for another, the tale is told by how many clients change addresses with them. Back in March, Stuart Manashil made the leap to WME after spending the past 6 1/2 years at CAA and before that spent six years at UTA. In what marks the third case — Dan Aloni and Warren Zavala were the first two — where agents pried their clients away from CAA, Manashil has strengthened WME’s writer-director roster quite a bit.
Related: Selena Gomez Signs With WME
Here’s who he brought with him:
Movies open every weekend. Some soar, some fail. Every once in a while a flop comes along that is so unexpected and devastating that everyone in town is left saying, “How the hell did that happen?” Recent examples include John Carter, The Lone Ranger and maybe even Pompeii or The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, even if the latter two sank without making much of a ripple. The $100 million Transcendence, the Johnny Depp-Morgan Freeman starrer that marked the directing debut of Chris Nolan’s vaunted cinematographer Wally Pfister, is one of those what-the-hell-happened films. Consider it grossed just $10.8 million domestic for its opening weekend, about half of Heaven Is For Real, a starless movie whose $12 million budget was likely less than Depp’s Transcendence salary. Heaven If For Real has grossed $30 million so far domestically and looks like a breakout sleeper hit.
So what the hell happened? There is blame to go around, including at Alcon Entertainment, which with its offshore partners fully financed the Warner Bros-distributed flop. Talking to numerous parties, I believe this was a movie that probably never should have been made because the script was complex, derivative, and hard to market, and it was not easy to discern who the audience should have been. It also is a case where yet again it was a mistake to give a first-time director the keys to a movie with complex subject matter that required meshing with the high maintenance of a big movie star and a giant budget. Transcendence seems similar in some ways to John Carter, where first-time live-action director Andrew Stanton had the endorsement of Pixar’s John Lasseter that led Disney execs to give him a lot of rope, and he proved out of his depth despite having directed so many animated hits. Here, Pfister got the job after standing aside Nolan as cinematographer, and proving himself a gifted visual artist on such films as The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception. Nolan, who made the film Insomnia at Alcon, endorsed his protege there and encouraged him to start on the kind of big canvas on which Nolan creates his masterpieces. But just because Pfister stands next to Nolan doesn’t mean he is Nolan, or has his ability for making the most complex storytelling palatable for the masses, like he did on Inception. The shoot was rough. Pfister and Alcon certainly put in the work here, and got the test scores to an acceptable level, but critics just hated the movie. Audiences felt the same, with the film getting a 19% rating on RottenTomatoes. And Johnny Depp, mostly seen as a computer image on a computer screen, didn’t open it the way that highly paid movie stars are supposed to.
EXCLUSIVE: While the second unit crew shooting Everest were in the vicinity when a tragic avalanche struck Mount Everest and so far has killed 13, there were no injuries or fatalities on the film, I can report. Principal photography on the Baltasar Kormakur-directed film is nearly over and they are finishing in Pinewood in England, but the second unit was setting up to go and shoot at Base 2 on Mount Everest near Nepal. Fortunately for the crew, they were acclimating at the foot of the summit and weren’t up where the disaster took place, when a wall of ice 1,000 feet up fell off at the left shoulder of the mountain and crashed down on Base 2. Most of the fatalities were experienced sherpas that guide climbers to the summit. Several of the sherpas involved with the Everest production rushed to help. The production will now have to wait to assess whether a trek back up the mountain to finish shooting is feasible.
The guides were carrying equipment and supplies to camps for climbers getting ready for peak trekking season — including those preparing to participate in Discovery Channel‘s Everest Jump Live, produced by NBC News Peacock Prods. Seven NBC News staffers on site are accounted for and unharmed, and Discovery said it has not had conversations as to how the disaster might impact the event’s scheduled May 11 air date.
EXCLUSIVE: In the wake of shocking allegations of sexual abuse against Bryan Singer that surfaced five weeks before the launch of the new X-Men film, Singer has cancelled a scheduled appearance at this weekend’s WonderCon in Anaheim, Deadline hears. Fox instead will send Simon Kinberg as the studio prepares to launch the Singer-directed blockbuster X-Men: Days Of Future Past. Kinberg wrote and produced the film and has been a part of the X-Men universe since the beginning.
Singer had been scheduled to be on hand to do interviews for the film that Fox opens May 23. It seems fairly obvious that right now he’s not going to get the kind of questions that will help the movie, or that he could answer. Singer had been scheduled to represent X-Men among a bunch of big Fox movies vamping this weekend, appearing along with Andy Serkis, Keri Russell, Gary Oldman and director Matt Reeves from Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes; Jay Baruchel and writer-director Dean DeBlois from How To Train Your Dragon 2; and Dylan O’Brien, writer James Dashner and director Wes Ball from The Maze Runner.
EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures has made a pre-emptive deal for I’m In Love With The DJ, a romantic comedy spec by Lauryn Kahn that will be produced by Gary Sanchez’s Adam McKay, Will Ferrell and Kevin Messick. Deal comes right after Gary Sanchez made a Sony deal for Border Guards, a comedy that will star Ferrell and John C. Reilly, with McKay directing.
The new deal is for an R-rated comedy is about a girl whose two best friends tag along on her work trip to Spain that quickly turns into a crazy hunt for a hot DJ through the electronic dance music scene. Kahn is the young writer who, after spending four years as McKay’s assistant and honing her writing skills scripting, performing and directing numerous shorts for the Funny Or Die, sold the script He’s Fuckin’ Perfect to Fox 2000 for $1 million against $1.5 million. That film, now titled The Social Life, moved to Universal with Jake Syzmanski directing Amanda Seyfried and Rebel Wilson, with Gary Sanchez producing.
EXCLUSIVE: UTA has signed to represent screen rights for After, a serialized story by Anna Todd that has become the most followed literary property published by Wattpad, an online community in which writers tell stories chapter by chapter. According to Wattpad general manager Candice Faktor, the three-part series After has been clicked on by more than 500 million.
Factor described the site as “a writer and reader community to collaborate and share nonfiction, fiction and fan fiction. It is a mobile experience that is very social and where writers establish a personal connection with their audience.” The site launched seven years ago and has built to 22 million monthly users, 80% of whom access the site on mobile devices. The company recently raised $46 million in Series C funding.
Agencies usually rep works from traditional publishers, but the priority in Hollywood is to find rabid followings that warrant screen adaptations. For Wattpad, After is the closest thing the site has experienced to Fifty Shades Of Grey, which began in similar fashion as fan fiction before it became a massive global bestseller and an upcoming Universal/Focus feature for author E.L. James. The way Faktor describes it, After sounds like a close cousin, without the S&M. “A happy, optimistic young girl falls in love with a guy with a dark side that is addictive, and their relationship is a rollercoaster ride,” Faktor said.
EXCLUSIVE: Fox has closed a deal for Men Who Kill, a pitch by T.J. Fixman that will be developed as a star vehicle for fast-rising Michael B. Jordan. The tone of the film is an international Bad Boys and it gives the studio another project with Jordan, who comes off his breakout role in Fruitvale Station and heads into the Fantastic Four reboot after previously starring in the Fox sleeper Chronicle.
After starring as a teen in the iconic TV series The Wire and Friday Night Lights, Jordan is making the transition to adulthood among a handful of young actors vying to be in the next generation of bankable leading men. This is the first action thriller vehicle being developed specifically for Jordan, who is separately attached to play Apollo Creed’s grandson in a new version of Rocky that will re-team him with Fruitvale Station writer-director Ryan Coogler.