Deadline’s Best Film Stories Of The Week

Catch up on the stories you missed this week:

TarantinoQuentin Tarantino Shelves ‘The Hateful Eight’ After Betrayal Results In Script Leak
By Mike Fleming Jr. EXCLUSIVE: Learning today that his script The Hateful Eight leaked after he gave it to a small circle of actors, Quentin Tarantino tells me that he’s so upset that he has decided that he will not direct that film next.

Rupert Sanders Set To Helm ‘Ghost In The Shell’ For DreamWorks
By Mike Fleming Jr.EXCLUSIVE: DreamWorks has made a deal with Snow White And The Huntsman helmer Rupert Sanders to direct Ghost In The Shell, a live-action film based on the Japanese manga futuristic police thriller that has a new script from William Wheeler.

Whiplash Sundance AwardSundance: ‘Whiplash’ & ‘Rich Hill’ Win Grand Jury Awards; Dramatic Directing Goes To Cutter Hodierne For ‘Fishing Without Nets’
By Dominic Patten and Jen Yamato – It was the first major deal of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and tonight Whiplash was the big winner at the fest’s Awards Ceremony. The Damien Chazelle-directed film about a young drummer, played by Miles Teller, and his demanding teacher, played by JK Simmons, took both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award. Read More »

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Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley Re-Ups To 2017, Adds Oversight Of International And Marketing Divisions

Mike Fleming

donaBREAKING: After coming through a major fall restructure and flying out of the gate with two box office hits in 2014 and overhauling Fast & Furious 7 so it can resume production in March, Universal Pictures chairman … Read More »

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Universal Makes First-Look Feature Pact With Hitmaking Producer Will Packer

By | Thursday October 31, 2013 @ 9:59am PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has made a three-year first-look producing deal with Will Packer, who has displayed a golden touch for generating modestly priced urban-flavored comedies that do strong domestic box office business. Packer is forming a new film label, Will Packer Productions, which will be moving to the Universal lot. He will begin staffing up right away and soon will name an exec to head his company. And he will become an active buyer of pitches and specs, not only in comedy but dramas and thrillers. While he built his business with urban-themed fare, Packer will get the chance to broaden those horizons at Universal. All this comes after Packer worked with the studio for the first time on Ride Along, the mismatched-buddy comedy that stars Ice Cube and Kevin Hart which the studio releases January 17. Packer produced the film with Cube, Matt Alvarez and Larry Brezner. Universal is already hard at work on the sequel, and Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley snatched him up.

Packer, whose television company is already at Universal Television in a two-year deal he signed in July, is one of the few non-writing African-American producers to have been set in an overall deal with a major studio. He never had an overall at Screen Gems, but there, Packer produced four films that opened in the top weekend slot in U.S. box office: Stomp The Yard, Takers, Obsessed and Think Like A Man. Read More »

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UNIVERSAL SHAKEUP: Adam Fogelson Out, Donna Langley Sideways, Jeff Shell In, And Ron Meyer Up As Studio Taken By Surprise

Mike Fleming

UPDATE: The studio has made this official. (See release below.)

BREAKING… SHOCKER! In a shocking development, Adam Fogelson will exit his post as Universal Pictures chairman, with Jeff Shell taking over Universal Studios. Ron Meyer is becoming the sole vice chairman of NBC Universal through 2017, and Donna Langley has been promoted chairman of Universal Pictures. Shell, who comes from the studio’s parent company Comcast, had been running Universal International. With that strong international background under his belt, he is coming to Hollywood.

Related: NBCU Taps Kevin MacLellan To Run International

To say this is a stunner is an understatement. I saw the Universal gang last night in Toronto for a drink before the premiere of the Ron Howard-directed Rush, and if he knew there was something amiss at the time, Fogelson is a world-class actor. They all headed back this morning and the change was made while they were flying. That’s when the turbulence hit.

Fogelson had the studio on a roll but his emphasis was on domestic distribution and marketing first. Given Shell’s expertise, the mandate going forward will be to emphasize a global game plan. The prospect that a Shell game was in the works, in this exact scenario, was rumored months ago, when Shell bought a house in Hollywood. But they were denied by the studio at the time. After weathering rumors that Comcast tried to get DreamWorks partner Stacey Snider to return to Universal, or that longtime chief Meyer would retire, all  the rumors died down. Fogelson, a level-headed exec who came out of marketing to take the top job and replace Marc Shmuger, seemed to be on stronger footing with Langley. After weathering a rough period including losers like Battleship, the motion picture group turned the corner last year with hits like Ted, and was doing better than a lot of other studios lately, and they are No. 2 in market share behind Warner Bros. Both of them were re-upped in late 2011 through 2014.

Related: Universal To Finish 2012 With All-Time Global Gross Record

The momentum certainly helps Langley, who has taste and strong relationships with talent, something that will help Shell as he gets going. The studio has the stability of the hit-making family film division, Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, and a coterie of long term producing deals with the likes of Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, and Scott Stuber. They also just made an overall deal with Legendary Pictures, Thomas Tull’s financing and producing company which left Warner Bros. Read More »

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Universal’s Year-Long Turnaround Shows Cyclical Nature Of Insane Movie Business

EXCLUSIVE ANALYSIS… UPDATED THROUGHOUT: Every movie studio has its fair share of hits and misses because success is cyclical in Hollywood. What goes up must come down, eventually. (Sony Pictures is having a troubled summer now after years of successful releases. Once stable Warner Bros Pictures just went through an executive upheaval as did Fox and Disney before it. Paramount had a film drought last year. And so on.) But then a studio’s fortunes go back up. Such is the case with Universal Pictures. For the past 12 months, its filmmakers have been on a winning streak from June 2012 to now – in other words, after the release of its embarrassingly bloated bomb Battleship and before that a string of stinkers. In the last year Universal has released 14 films with 10 opening #1: Snow White And The Huntsman, Ted, The Bourne Legacy, Les Misèrables, Mama, Identity Thief, Oblivion, Fast & Furious 6The Purge, and this weekend’s Despicable Me 2 which broke records here as well as overseasNot even counting DM2‘s grosses, the studio amassed $3.2 billion at the worldwide box office which was more than in any 12-month period in Universal’s history. The slate also has been the most profitable not only for Universal (not adjusted for inflation, higher ticket prices, or 3D premium sales) but compared to every major Hollywood studio except Disney. I’ve learned that Legendary Entertainment‘s Thomas Tull could announce his selection of a new financial, distribution, marketing, and production partnership as early as this week after kicking tires all over Hollywood – and his choice is “likely” NBCUniversal. That’s a big vote of confidence for the movie side led by chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chair Donna Langley who report to Universal Studios president/CEO Ron Meyer.

“They are killing it,” emails one film financing expert I respect. “Since January of 2012, Universal has beaten Sony, Warner Bros, Paramount, and Fox on ‘cash on cash’ (TCCR) return. And if you look at their next two years, it is filled with sequels (10 in their 25 next pics) which should lead to terrific profits plus lower volatility. And they have event pictures and several brands such as Fifty Shades Of Grey and Wicked (touring in 40+ countries). It’s an amazing run. I never expected this. To be honest, I’m not their biggest fan.”

I’ve learned this short and stunning turnaround actually was the result of a plan by Universal execs to target overseas audiences who make up 70% of theatrical box office and intentionally create international franchises. “They executed well and succeeded. On Ted they got lucky. But that is what happens when you have enough at bats,” a source tells me. Now Uni wants to have potential franchise pics start in the $80M to $100M range if not a well-known brand. They’ll spend more on a sequel.

This strategy followed months of media predictions that all three studio heads would roll (separately or together) because of what was suddenly seen as deep systemic problems at the studio. Universal became the subject of speculative article after speculative article. Remember the bruising Uni brass suffered last summer when Battleship failed and rumors fanned that Comcast had courted DreamWorks partner Stacey Snider to take over?

And then in the middle of all that, the boss, Comcast EVP/NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, decided to sit in on Universal’s Monday motion picture meeting for senior Universal execs. Burke at the time only visited his film outpost about once every financial quarter (more often this summer). This Xanax moment took place while Burke was in town for a weekend wedding then atypically stayed on. It had to be made clear internally that he was not coming to fire anybody or commence layoffs. But Comcast folk are a tight-lipped bunch and the silence only added to the “where’s there smoke/there’s fire” chatter destabilizing the studio even more than any inaccurate journalist could. The fact is they didn’t know what to say. Though entertainment vets, Burke and Comcast chief Brian Roberts were “not used to the fishbowl nature coverage of the movie business. That everything which happens, true or false, gets the industry talking,” as an insider explained to me at the time.

For awhile, it looked as if Comcast would be no different than so many other corporate and private investors who came to Hollywood dreaming of big profits only to leave with empty wallets. (Remember, at one point early on during the acquisition and then regulatory period, Comcast seriously contemplated selling the film studio.) “Comcast just weren’t prepared to have movies like Ted make so much more money than anyone imagined - and then to have Battleship do so much less than planned. There’s virtually no other business around where your plans for the year in 24 hours go up and down,” a Comcast exec explained to me back then.

Fogelson self-consciously ran the meeting with Burke watching and said to staff afterwards about his Comcast overlords, “They’re genuine grownups. They’re not panicked. They want to run and  grow an extraordinary business. And as for the immediate effects of Burke’s visit, I feel completely supported as I did before.”

Of course, no one believed Adam. Instead, he and Donna and Ron ignored the public humiliation and predictions they were about to be shitcanned and kept their heads down. It didn’t help when Comcast revamped its own logo to include NBC’s famous peacock but not Universal’s spinning globe. Now things are looking up.

For the most part, Universal has achieved its turnaround Read More »

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Universal Pictures To Finish Year With All-Time High Film Global Gross Record

By | Thursday December 20, 2012 @ 2:32pm PST
Mike Fleming

BREAKING: Remember the bruising that Universal Pictures brass received over the summer when Battleship failed and when rumors were published that Comcast had courted DreamWorks partner Stacey Snider to return? Now, Universal’s Ron Meyer, Adam Fogelson and Donna Langley have reason to take a bow. The studio, which passed the record for Universal’s domestic grosses back in October, is now on course to blow past its global record, even before Les Miserables gets released on Christmas. Grosses aren’t profits, of course, but hits like Safe House and Ted certainly have created some momentum. Here is the official release:

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA, December 20, 2012—Universal Pictures today announced that 2012 will mark its best year at the worldwide box office in the studio’s 100-year history with global theatrical grosses exceeding $2.927 billion to date. Universal broke its domestic record ($1.127 billion) in October and the studio will surpass its international record ($1.716 billion) Friday, December 21.

Read More »

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Universal Surpasses 2008 To Set Best Domestic Box Office Year Ever

By | Tuesday September 25, 2012 @ 9:53am PDT
Mike Fleming

Despite the rumors that Comcast had conversations with Stacey Snider and possibly Tom Rothman to take a top post at the studio, and despite the summer disappointment of Battleship, Universal Pictures has just set its best-ever result for North American box office with $1.128 billion. That beats the $1.127 billion set in 2008. Buoyed by hits like Ted, the studio will likely also beat its worldwide ticket sales record as well. It has four movies still to be released: Pitch Perfect, in wide release on October 5; the action-thriller The Man With The Iron Fists on November 2; Judd Apatow’s This Is 40, on December 21; and Les Misérables, on December 25. The films that Universal has released so far this year are: Contraband, Big Miracle, Safe House, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Wanderlust, American Reunion, The Five Year Engagement, Battleship, Snow White And The Huntsman, Ted, Savages and The Bourne Legacy. The studio is number four in box office share behind Warner Bros (22 films), Sony a(21) and Disney with 13 films. Read More »

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Universal Denies THR Story That Kristen Stewart Has Been Dropped From ‘Huntsman’ Sequel

Mike Fleming

BREAKING: Universal Pictures has taken the unusual step of outright denying a Hollywood Reporter story that Kristen Stewart had been dumped from the sequel to Snow White And The Huntsman. The studio issued this statement from Universal … Read More »

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Mike Fleming’s Q&A With ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ Agent Valerie Hoskins, Broker Of 2012′s Biggest Book Rights Film Deal

Mike Fleming

50 Shades Of Grey MovieEXCLUSIVE: Just about every studio in town waged a concerted courtship for the movie rights to the E.L. James salty romance novel Fifty Shades Of Grey, and all but one today is feeling the sting of being jilted after the author and agent Valerie Hoskins went to the altar with Universal Pictures and Focus Features. Rumors raced all weekend that with 10 studios bidding, numbers passed $5 million upfront against a back end 5% or higher. Neither Universal nor Hoskins would divulge how much Universal co-chairman Donna Langley paid — when I broke the story this morning, I’d heard that it was a bit higher than the $3 million against 3.5% Sony paid for The Da Vinci Code, but many suitors figure it had to be around $4 million against as much as 5% of gross. If the picture sparks a trilogy, that is life-changing money for the former TV executive-turned-author. Since this was the wildest book auction in years and so many heavy hitters spent the weekend obsessing over it, I wanted to get the play-by-play from Hoskins, the British agent who, it turns out, is a real spitfire. I caught her just before she boarded a plane back across the pond with James, who left with a seven-figure publishing deal in one pocket, and a seven-figure movie rights deal in the other.

DEADLINE: Hollywood hasn’t seen a book rights auction like this since…
HOSKINS: It was not an auction.

DEADLINE: Generally, when a property is placed on the block for bids and sells, it’s considered an auction, no?
HOSKINS: My understanding of an auction is something that goes to the highest bidder. I can’t think of a better word for our process but it was not an auction.

DEADLINE: Does that mean you left bigger offers on the table?
HOSKINS: No comment.

DEADLINE: During this auction, the book was characterized in a number of ways that included ‘Mommy Porn.’ What would you call it?
HOSKINS: It’s a love story. People fall in love and they rabidly have sex, because that’s what you do when you fall in love. You do, you do! It’s a love story,  a romantic one. I don’t really like the phrase ‘Mommy Porn.’ I guess I don’t mind it that much, but I don’t like it. Read More »

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Universal Pictures And Focus Features Win ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’

Mike Fleming

50 Shades Of Grey Universal Focus FeaturesEXCLUSIVE: Ending the wildest book-to-movie auction in recent and distant memory, Universal Pictures and Focus Features have acquired screen rights to E.L. James’ steamy novel Fifty Shades Of Grey. Focus Features … Read More »

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Universal Extends Imagine Entertainment Deal Through 2016

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: In a move that continues the longest standing production deal Universal Pictures has ever had in its 100-year history, the studio has extended its deal with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard through 2016. These mega-producer deals have been getting trimmed all over town, though, and the Imagine deal has shifted from an exclusive to a first-look deal. Going forward, Howard will be able to direct more films elsewhere, and Grazer can produce at other studios. He is now producing the upcoming Academy Awards with Don Mischer. The Imagine extension was just finalized by Universal chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley.

The last deal Grazer and Howard made with the studio was set to expire in 2013. Imagine has made around 50 films since the partners first were brought into the Universal in 1986 by Ron Meyer, at the time Grazer’s former agent at CAA and had just transitioned to the top job at Universal. Like every producer-studio relationship, the Universal and Imagine arrangement has been tested in the past few years. The studio said no to The Dark Tower, a feature trilogy and two limited-run TV series adapted from the Stephen King novel series that Howard was to direct, with Javier Bardem starring and Grazer producing with Akiva Goldsman and King. The filmmakers continue to develop the project and expect to make it elsewhere. Universal and Imagine also mutually decided to not go forward with Cartel, a drama that Asger Leth was going to direct. Read More »

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Hammond: ‘Bridesmaids’ A Serious Oscar Contender? Universal Chiefs Say Yes

By | Wednesday December 21, 2011 @ 4:53pm PST
Pete Hammond

If anyone were to have told you back on May 13 when Universal’s raunchy female comedy Bridesmaids opened that we would seriously be discussing its Best Picture Oscar nomination prospects a week before Christmas, the status of their mental health would been called into question. But even though it remains aRead More »

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Universal Pictures Buys Paris Animation Unit For Chris Meledandri’s Illumination

By | Monday November 14, 2011 @ 3:15pm PST
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: After Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment established itself as a reliable provider of family films for Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley, the studio has expanded its commitment to the division by acquiring the … Read More »

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Universal, Jason Blum And Paul Brooks Make First-Look Distribution Deal For Angle Films

By | Tuesday November 1, 2011 @ 11:07am PDT
Mike Fleming

LOS ANGELES, CA, November 1, 2011—Universal Pictures and Angle Films today announced a first-look distribution deal between the two companies. The newly formed Angle Films is jointly owned and operated by Paul Brooks’ Gold Circle Films and Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions. Its mandate is to finance and produce genre films with budgets ranging from $15 to $30 million. The distribution pact was announced today by Brooks, Blum and Universal Chairman Adam Fogelson and Co-Chairman Donna Langley.

Both Blumhouse and Gold Circle have separate deals at Universal for their respective core businesses, which will continue at the studio.

Read More »

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Donna Langley May Be Unreachable For A Few Hours

By | Friday October 21, 2011 @ 8:38am PDT
Mike Fleming

It’s not Deadline policy to report on anyone’s personal lives unless it affects business. So I’m letting you know that Universal Pictures co-chairman and well-known workaholic Donna Langley may be out of pocket for a few hours. She and husband … Read More »

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Cross Creek Makes Three-Year Distribution Deal With Universal Pictures

Mike Fleming

BREAKING: Universal Pictures has made a three-year deal to distribute at least six pictures produced and funded by Cross Creek Pictures. The first film in this deal will be Rush, the Ron Howard-directed Formula One drama. Cross Creek, run by president Brian Oliver and CEO Timmy Thompson,  has quickly emerged as a significant film financier. They got started with the Darren Aronofsky-directed Black Swan and continue with the upcoming George Clooney-directed The Ides of March and Daniel Radcliffe-starrer The Woman in Black, which will be distributed by CBS Films.

The deal was announced by Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley, along with Oliver and Thompson.

Cross Creek is partnered with Exclusive Media Group as co-financier and co-producer of Rush, the Howard-directed drama about the battle between ’70s Formula One racers Niki Lauda and James Hunt that stars Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth and Inglourious Basterds‘ Daniel Bruhl. Peter Morgan wrote the script, and Howard and the actors shot some footage during Formula One races held at Nurburgring Race Track in Germany. It was there, in the 70s, that Lauda was almost killed in a fiery accident that is a major part of the drama. The film seems a natural fit for Universal, since Oliver’s fellow producers are Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner. Both Imagine and Cross Creek have overall deals at the studio.

Aside from pictures that Cross Creek brings into the equation, the company will likely become a financier of existing Universal projects getting close to green lights. The budgets of the films will range from $15 million-$65 million, with the average film costing between $25 million-$35 million. Cross Creek is set up to generate up to four films per year, with Universal to distribute at least two of them with a wide-release commitment. Read More »

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Universal Pictures Re-Ups Donna Langley As Co-Chairman

By | Tuesday September 27, 2011 @ 12:25pm PDT
Mike Fleming

BREAKING: Universal Pictures Co-Chairman Donna Langley will continue her term through 2014. The studio extended the option on her deal, a move that was widely expected when Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson re-upped last week and will continue to have full day-to-day operating responsibility for the Motion Picture Group, reporting to Universal Studios President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer (whose contract was recently re-upped through 2015) and NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke. That was a signal that the studio’s production team would remain intact after NBCUniversal was acquired by Comcast. Langley will continue to serve as a key strategic business partner overseeing the company’s production department, Focus Features and the studio’s worldwide acquisitions efforts. She reports to Fogelson and has been co-chairman since October 2009. Read More »

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Focus Features Exec Peter Kujawski Takes Acquisitions Exec Veep Post at Universal

By | Monday September 26, 2011 @ 12:52pm PDT
Mike Fleming

Universal Pictures co-chairman Donna Langley appointed Peter Kujawski to the post of EVP Worldwide Acquisitions. Kujawski is currently EVP International Sales for the Universal-owned specialty film label Focus Features. The Universal features team got a vote of confidence when chairman Adam Fogelson was given an early re-up, and Langley is also negotiating to extend her term with the studio.

Kujawski is charged with centralizing and streamlining Universal’s acquisitions and to maximize distribution opportunities. He’ll report to Langley and be based in Los Angeles. He isn’t replacing anyone directly, but does pick up some of the slack left when Christian Grass left the studio in July. Kujawski will also work closely with Universal Pictures President of International David Kosse. “Peter’s vast experience selling specialty films gives him a unique perspective on the global marketplace and undeniably qualifies him to lead our acquisitions efforts,” Langley said. Read More »

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Universal Makes First-Look Deal With Jason Blum Of ‘Paranormal Activity’ And ‘Insidious’

Mike Fleming

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. Read More »

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