EXCLUSIVE: As David Ellison‘s Skydance Productions gets more creatively ambitious in the popcorn pictures it makes in partnership with Paramount Pictures, the label has added a former Par stalwart exec in Don Granger. Granger joins Ellison and Dana Goldberg at Skydance in the post of EVP Feature Productions. It is a newly created position and he will report to Goldberg, the company’s chief creative officer.
As Skydance continues to pursue tentpole films like with the reboot of The Terminator franchise, Granger seems like an ideal fit because he has spent most of his career shepherding exactly these kinds of films. He most recently worked with Paramount and Skydance producing Jack Reacher, and before that had a strong relationship with Tom Cruise as president of Motion Picture Production at United Artists when Cruise and Paula Wagner revived the label. Granger before that was senior exec at C/W Productions and before that was partner in Mutual Film Company. He cut his teeth at Paramount, where he worked from 1990-2001 and shepherded such franchises as Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, Tomb Raider and the Jack Ryan films, as well as Saving Private Ryan. The brass at Paramount is different, but many of those franchises are ones that Skydance is involved in.
BREAKING: As Deadline was first to reveal after the exits of Lynn Harris and Sarah Schechter, Jon Berg and Courtenay Valenti have been promoted to EVP Development and Production at Warner Bros Pictures by Greg Silverman, President, Creative Development and Worldwide Production. Both execs, who’ve worked forever with Silverman, will report to him. Duties will be expanded for Valenti, a 25-year studio vet, and Berg, who has been rising in the ranks since arriving in 2008. They will take grater roles in oversight and management of Warner Bros’ development team and budget, as well as managing the studio’s film projects.
EXCLUSIVE: James Mangold is negotiating to direct The Deep Blue Good-By, the 1964 John D. MacDonald novel that kicked off series of mystery novels with character Travis McGee. This has long been eyed by Fox as the launch of a star-driven franchise based on the beach bum McGee, a forerunner of muscular solitary heroes like Jack Reacher and Spenser For Hire, helping (and romancing) damsels in distress as he kicks ass against the powerful. The film was originally set as a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio. That’s not going to happen now, as DiCaprio has plenty of work in front of him and this film, with a most recent script draft by Mystic River novelist Dennis Lehane, is certainly ready to go. DiCaprio and his Appian Way partner Jennifer Davisson-Killoran are producing with Amy Robinson and Chernin Entertainment. Previous script drafts were done by Dana Stevens and Kario Salem.
As Gay Athletes Take Field, Ross Katz Boards ‘Out At Home’, Story Of First Gay Ballplayer Glenn Burke
EXCLUSIVE: Ross Katz, who produced The Laramie Project and the superb HBO pic Taking Chance, has signed on to write Out At Home: The Glenn Burke Story. He joins Juma Entertainment’s Jamie Lee Curtis and Robert Horowitz as producers of the film that tells the story of Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A’s player Burke, who was honest with his teammates and management that he was gay at a time in the 1970s when such a revelation was unheard of. It’s still perilous today, though the Brooklyn Nets’ Jason Collins just became the first openly gay player to play on a major pro sports roster, and 2013 SEC co-defensive player of the year Michael Sam is preparing to enter the NFL draft as football’s first openly gay player.
I have been surprised by the level of discussion on ESPN, where some ex-jocks expect Sam’s draft stock to fall simply because of the awkwardness in the locker room and the prospect that some athletes won’t accept him. Seems to me that skeptical players might want to watch the Jackie Robinson movie 42 before they decide whether they want to be on the right or wrong side of this issue when it is judged half a century down the road. I just don’t see much difference between Robinson’s struggle against racists and a player like Sam as they try to overcome bigotry to be accepted for their outsized athletic skills, and the right to be comfortable in their own skin.
All this brings a timely context to Out At Home, which is based on a 1995 memoir Burke wrote with Erik Sherman. Drafted by the Dodgers in 1972 and hailed as baseball’s next superstar, Burke played in the majors from 1976-79. He was the only rookie to start in the 1977 World Series, when the Yankees defeated the Dodgers in 6 games. A larger-than-life character both on and off the field, Burke unexpectedly was traded to Oakland in 1978. He retired after his second season with the A’s. Although his teammates and management knew the truth, Burke didn’t go public with his sexuality until 1982, in an appearance on NBC’s Today with Bryant Gumbel. It was still an act of courage, because Burke was the first ballplayer to do so.
Here we are again after the Golden Globes, Mike Fleming and Anita Busch taking on the task of play by play during the most wide-open Oscar race we can remember. Even on the party circuit, industry insiders who usually have a grasp of who’ll walk away with Oscars were evenly torn between Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D masterpiece Gravity and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave. Then again, there were so many terrific films that got Best Picture nominations, and all of them have at least a puncher’s chance at an upset.
That includes American Hustle, where David O Russell co-wrote the Best Original Script nominee with Eric Warren Singer and got tour de force performances and nominations for Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Perfs so strong there was no room on the nomination roster for perennial Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner. The film is up for 10 awards, and has grossed over $240 million on a $40 million budget.
Then there is The Wolf Of Wall Street, with Leonardo DiCaprio giving the most emphatic and complete performance of a great career, and Jonah Hill right there with him as his crazy con man sidekick. The film is up for five nominations, including Martin Scorsese for directing a terrific adaptation from The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire vet Terence Winter.
2ND UPDATE, 12:01 PM PT: After much back and forth Saturday involving Sony, Universal and a last-ditch overture from Warner Bros, Sony finally closed its deal for Winter’s Knight, the Viking-mythology-tinged origin story of St. Nick and Christmas. Sony emerged as front-runner when it agreed to pay $1 million to newbie scribes Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton, for the biggest spec sale of this year so far. That was the easy part. Deals were then made for producers Marc Platt and Lawrence Grey. More challenging was making a deal with the white hot Kon-Tiki helmers Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, but that effort was led by incoming Sony Pictures Production President Michael De Luca. His persuasive pitch was that he plans to bring in the next generation of emerging filmmakers, much the way he did at ’90s New Line with the likes of David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson. That, and a precedent-setting mid-seven-figure salary for the directing team, sealed the deal. If Disney can keep to its schedule and get the next Pirates of the Caribbean to set sail before year’s end, the directors will make that after completing the pilot for the Netflix/Weinstein Company series Marco Polo, and Winter’s Knight will come after. Also intriguing is how this movie will lengthen the movie credit resume of L. Frank Baum, best known for The Wizard Of Oz. The subject matter is his 1902 book The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus. Of course, Baum’s work has fallen into public domain, meaning anyone can pillage it for movie ideas. At the rate Baum is going, with all the Oz incarnations and now this work being turned into big money Hollywood films, he might end up spinning in his grave almost as fast as Shakespeare, long Hollywood’s most heavily exploited public domain wordsmith.
EXCLUSIVE: The appetite for scripts and partially finished films is soaring. Lionsgate is tying up a deal today to pay $7 million to pre-buy U.S. distribution rights to American Ultra, the action comedy that begins shooting in New Orleans …
Earlier, this afternoon, Bruce Broughton had his say about the rescinding of the Oscar nomination for the title song from Alone Yet Not Alone. Here’s another side of the story, in a letter Deadline obtained that was sent to the Academy by Martin M. Bandier, the influential chairman of Sony/ATV Music Publishing. Like Broughton, he also is calling for changes in the Best Song category, but he specifically has a beef with the rule that doesn’t provide for another nominee to replace one that might be nixed, as happened this year. There certainly were other songs that warranted inclusion, and the one that I thought the category missed most was Lana Del Rey’s haunting “Young and Beautiful,” which added so much to the courtship seen between Gatsby and Daisy in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. There were others, too. Bandier sent the letter to AMPAS chief Cheryl Boone Isaacs, and it won’t be surprising if she spend some energy looking hard at this, but it seemed relevant enough right now to air it here. Read the letter below:
EXCLUSIVE: Bruce Broughton speaks. The composer and former Academy Music Branch governor, whose title song from Alone Yet Not Alone received an Oscar nom but later was disqualified because of improper campaigning following an expose written by our Awards Columnist Pete Hammond, has written a letter for Deadline. In it he explains his side and calls for reforms in a current system he feels makes it impossible for smaller films to compete with the star-studded songs that now fill studio Oscar-season movies. Broughton was said to have used his position and familiarity with voters to give a listen to a song from an obscure movie and it shocked everyone when it got a nom over much higher-profile tunes in movies people actually heard of. We were pretty tough on Broughton — this was the most significant blemish on the Academy during a relatively clean, wide-open race that ends Sunday — but he has asked to speak his piece and so we are allowing him to do so. To Broughton, there are flaws in the system that need to be addressed. Deadline readers can decide whether his explanation charts or not.
The recent rescinding of the Oscar® nomination for Best Song in this year’s Academy Awards contest draws attention to a major problem in the Academy’s campaign methodology. The nomination was rescinded by the Motion Picture Academy’s board of governors because it was felt that I, the composer (Dennis Spiegel was the lyricist of the song), had abused my position as a former Academy governor and present member of the Music Branch Executive Board by writing an email to about 70 persons drawing their attention to the song that was included on a DVD that contained all of the 75 eligible songs in three-minute clips from their films. The song list was anonymous; no songwriter names were included. It was alleged by the press that I had “played the system” by using my position to somehow get people to vote for my song. The Academy, in a statement about the board’s action, said that my emails, by identifying the song, had “called into question whether the process was ‘fair and equitable,’” and said it was dedicated to insuring a “level playing field for all Oscar® contenders.”
Although I admitted to writing the emails and pointing out the song, I did not ask anyone to vote for the song, nor did I promote the film. Neither did I make any phone calls. These are forbidden by Academy rules: an email “may not extol the merits of a film, an achievement or an individual.” But there are no restrictions on writing the email. None. There is nothing in the rules to discourage an erstwhile governor or any member from indulging in some promotion. The major studios and many independents send out DVD screeners of their films which list all of the eligible contestants on the jacket – including the songwriters – and follow up with invitations to screenings, meet-‘n-greets, sometimes including a fully produced, non-film version CD of the song, something that is disallowed by Academy rules. When major studios “campaign,” there’s no way a small independent can adequately compete. And there’s nothing anonymous about any of it.
Kevin Spacey Continues His Disruptive Platform-Shifting Experiments By Self-Releasing ‘Now: In The Wings On A World Stage’: Q&A
When most leading men get preoccupied with messing with models, it usually means extracurricular activity. When it’s Kevin Spacey, it means taking bold risks to create disruptive opportunities to alter arcane platforms that have ranged from his own acting career to pioneering the first breakout multi-platform success in the J.C. Chandor-directed Margin Call and the first breakout Netflix series hit House Of Cards. Now, he has made an intriguing documentary, Now: In The Wings On A World Stage, and will test new waters by self-distributing the film.
Here’s the first trailer that was just unveiled for the docu, which he is releasing in limited theatres and simultaneously via download here on KevinSpacey.com.
Spacey, in the midst of a strong run in Hollywood and two Oscars, started this journey of self discovery back in 2003 when he left Hollywood to revive the Old Vic in London. That has limited his screen time, but Trigger Street, the company he runs with Dana Brunetti, has kept him enough in the mix with Best Picture nominee Captain Phillips, The Social Network, 21 and other films. Spacey has kept up the Old Vic’s storied traditions, starring in and producing plays year after year. Now, after quietly funding and producing and starring in Now, a documentary about the conception and the experience of performing Richard III across the world, Spacey is self-releasing a film he feels captures the exhilaration of live performances that reunited Spacey with Sam Mendes since both won Oscars in Mendes’ screen debut American Beauty. His Now passion project and its trailer debut offers a a great chance to catch up with an actor who, after winning Oscars and asserting himself as a bankable leading man, up and left town for a venture many felt was folly. But this film’s most compelling selling point also underscores that Spacey knew what he was doing. If the millions and millions of rabid House Of Cards binge viewers want to see where his Vice President Francis Underwood character came from, it turns out they can find it right in this movie.
DEADLINE: I caught bronchitis this week and the only plus was tearing through the first season and one half of House Of Cards. Just a remarkable, game-changing way to absorb great drama.
SPACEY: I can’t say that I’m much of a binge watcher myself. People stop me on the street and tell me they are treating House Of Cards like a good novel, where they decide when to put it down on the bedside table, and when to pick it up again. What I love about that mind-set is that it puts the audience in complete control.
UPDATE, 12:04 PM: By Warner Bros jumping aboard the high-profile Johnny Depp-Joel Edgerton pic Black Mass, it means the studio won’t be taking on another Whitey Bulger project in its own backyard: the one that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon had been developing for a couple of years as a starring vehicle for Damon via their Warners-based Pearl Street Films. I’m hearing that Affleck and Damon were given a day or two advance notice that the studio was putting its eggs in the Black Mass basket, but that news came just a day before the latest rewrite was turned in by Aaron Stockard, who worked with Affleck on The Town and Gone Baby Gone and who rewrote the script by Oscar nominated The Wolf Of Wall Street scribe Terence Winter. There was much enthusiasm, then radio silence, and then…Naturally there are bruised feelings that Warners will have to repair with two of its most valuable players, as this was the first project pitched for Affleck to direct and Damon to star after Pearl Street inked its overall deal there, and I’m told the studio assured the pair it wanted to make their movie.
This is all a part of the big rough and tumble game of studios needing to fill slates, and clearly someone was going to come out first with a Bulger biopic. But there are plenty of reasons to smooth any ruffles here. Affleck is directing and starring in Warner Bros’ Live By Night, an epic period crime drama that he adapted from the best-selling novel by Dennis Lehane, author of Affleck’s first directorial outing Gone Baby Gone. It’s the follow-up to the Best Picture Oscar winner Argo he made for the studio. He also is playing Batman in Warner Bros’ Batman Vs. Superman.
EXCLUSIVE: Melanie Griffith has followed her longtime agent Manny Nunez to Paradigm. She’s following the same path as her husband Antonio Banderas, who moved with Nunez a day after the agent became the latest CAAer to land at …