Barry Levinson has come on board to direct a love story loosely based on the best-selling novel The Cursed Piano by Chinese author Bei La. It takes place across Leningrad and Shanghai over the course of 40 years. Shanghai Film Group is teaming with Mike Medavoy, Levinson and Oscar-winning scribe Ronald Harwood on the project. Hannah Shakespeare wrote the original screenplay. Producing with Medavoy are Raffaella De Laurentiis and Edward McGurn. Shanghai Film Group is fully financing the pic, which starts production in Shanghai in February.
Cannes: Barry Levinson Tapped To Direct Shanghai-Set Love Story Based On Chinese Novel ‘The Cursed Piano’
A&E Network has teamed with Homicide alums Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson for The Box, a half-hour cop drama that takes place largely within the walls of the interrogation room. The cable network has ordered two scripts from the project, which will be written by Fontana. The Box features a small ensemble of detectives as they interrogate the key suspect or witness in a case. The spine of each half-hour episode will be the verbal dance between cop and suspect in “the box,” with the complete story of the crime, the investigation and the legal hurdles woven into and around the interrogation. The project expands on a key element from Homicide, where plots often pivoted on what the series called “The Box,” a sterile, rectangular interrogation room where suspects were brought in for questioning.
EXCLUSIVE: Jason Blum will bring the studio into the low-budget but often high-gross world of genre films. Universal Pictures has made a 3-year first-look deal with Blum and his Blumhouse Productions which produced the Paranormal Activity franchise, and followed that up with Insidious, the James Wan-directed thriller that has already become one of the most profitable films of 2011. A sequel seems inevitable.
The original Paranormal Activity cost about $15,000 and grossed $193 million. The first sequel cost $3 million and grossed $177 million worldwide and the third film debuts Oct. 21. Insidious cost $1.5 million and grossed $81 million worldwide and is still rolling out. This guy is minting money. He’s producing the latest installment of the fright franchise Amityville Horror: The Lost Tapes for Dimension Films, produced the Barry Levinson-directed eco-horror film The Bay, The River for ABC and the Jay Chandresakar-directed comedy Baby Makers. He is producing the Oren Peli-directed Area 51 for Paramount Pictures, as well as The Lords of Salem, with Rob Zombie directing. Blum’s also an exec producer on the John Hillcoat-directed The Wettest County in the World. This amounts to an aggressive move into the low-budget area for Universal, which, if anything, is known for spending generously on its slates.
Showtime Takes On 1970s Record Industry With Drama Project From Jason Smilovic, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas & Barry Levinson
EXCLUSIVE: Showtime is getting groovy with a drama project about the 1970s music industry. The pay cable network has bought Vinyl, a spec script written by Jason Smilovic and Todd Katzberg, with Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas on board to executive produce and Barry Levinson attached to direct, subject to availability. Smilovic will also executive produce, with Barry Grieff, Andy Meyer and Katzberg co-executive producing. The idea for the project originated with Grieff and Meyer, who were A&M Records executives in the 1970s. They took it to Smilovic, who brought in frequent collaborator (and former mentee) Katzberg. Set in 1970s Los Angeles, Vinyl explores every aspect of the music business through multiple vantage points — from the record executives and rock stars to the drug pushers and the prostitutes, from the stage to the boardroom to the DJ booth.
EXCLUSIVE: Before Al Pacino and director Barry Levinson re-team for Gotti: Three Generations, the duo will first reunite on an adaptation of the Philip Roth novel The Humbling, which has been set for a fall start and will be financed by Avi Lerner’s Millennium Films/Nu Image. It is just the latest in a period of extreme productivity for Levinson, some of it directly attributable to the acclaim he got for directing Pacino’s Emmy-winning turn as Jack Kevorkian in HBO’s You Don’t Know Jack.
The Humbling revolves around Simon Axler (Pacino), a famous stage actor in decline who is revived when he retires to his upstate New York farmhouse and takes up with a much younger woman. It has a script by Buck Henry, Michal Zebede and Levinson. Levinson will be looking to quickly cast the young female lead, the actor’s agent, and several other eccentric characters you would expect in a Roth novel. Levinson committed to this movie after completing production on the low-budget eco-horror film The Bay, which he shot on hand-held cameras and which Lionsgate will release. He just spent time at the Cannes Film Festival to help stir interest in the offshore rights of the Gotti movie; and he’s right now in China, heading the jury at the Shanghai Film Festival.
I caught up with Levinson at Cannes, where he was uneasy about the idea of having to hawk a film (Gotti) that he and his Bugsy co-writer James Toback are giving a page one rewrite. He was completely sparked to be shooting a variety of films, from horror to documentaries (he helmed for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series The Band That Wouldn’t Die). But industry players who passed by us in the Majestic Hotel seemed intrigued at his chance to create a major new Mafia movie, and one prominent figure even volunteered to join a preliminary cast that includes John Travolta (Gotti Sr.), Joe Pesci and Pacino, whom Levinson recruited.
After a fun opening night living vicariously through Woody Allen’s Paris, the Cannes official competition and sales market really got down to business Thursday. And how’s this for a good time? The fest started the competitive entries with a double bill of downer flicks directed by two very smart women. Unfortunately, only one of them worked.
First up was the dreadful Sleeping Beauty, an Australian drama revolving around a girl, played by Emily Browning, who subjects herself to such degrading inhuman sexual acts we can’t even go into it here. As she is induced into a coma-like state a number of eighty-something men have their way with her. Fun, huh? The really stunning thing is that rare Palme D’Or winning woman, Jane Campion (The Piano), is lending her name to this dreary exercise from first-timer Julia Leigh.
It could only go up from there and it did — waaaaay up — at the 8:30 AM Thursday morning press screening for Lynne Ramsey’s extraordinary We Need To Talk About Kevin, starring the ever-remarkable Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly as parents dealing with tragic circumstances caused by their out-of-control son. It is a most impressive acting and directorial feat that gives the festival its first genuine awards contender, and if it can secure domestic distribution (may distribs such as Sony Pictures Classics and Lionsgate were seen entering the early AM screening), the Oscar-winning Swinton could once again find herself in the Academy race next year and definitely for a prize here on May 22.
EXCLUSIVE: Conan the Barbarian helmer Marcus Nispel will next direct Backmask, a $10 million film that will begin shooting this summer. It’s based on an idea by Nispel, whose recent films include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th. Kirsten Elms is writing the script. Nispel is keeping the …
Barry Levinson is negotiating to come aboard Gotti: Three Generations, Fiore Films’ indie biopic that has cast John Travolta at the Dapper Don and Joe Pesci as his right-hand man. Nick Cassavetes was tapped as the director when the project was announced last month, but he recently dropped out because of …
EXCLUSIVE: Barry Levinson will direct O.K.C., an indie drama about the real circumstances behind the devastating bombing in Oklahoma City. The film will be produced and financed by Peter Safran and his Safran Co. Clay Wold is writing the script, based on a true story about his own brother, who was a young legal clerk on the defense team of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
The just completed Thrillerfest — think Comic-Con for thriller authors and their fans — featured a lecture that caught my eye. Sleepers author Lorenzo Carcaterra chose the 10 best thriller films made from books, the 10 worst, and the 10 he …
Some action on the feature front. Sony’s Columbia Pictures attached Barry Levinson to direct Brother Jack, a Mosaic-produced drama based on the life of human rights activist Jack Healey. Harley Peyton wrote the script and Kelly Masterson is rewriting. Levinson’s got a little momentum from the Jack Kevorkian biopic You …