EXCLUSIVE: Two weeks ago when I broke the story that Imagine, Universal, Gary Ross and Jennifer Lawrence teaming on a two-part feature adaptation of John Steinbeck’s East Of Eden, I reported that The Hunger Games trio of Ross, Lawrence and producer Allison Shearmur (a key exec on the film) would come to market with the new Hannah Kent novel Burial Rites. CAA indeed took the book to auction last week, and I’m hearing that it’s likely to shape up as a complete Hunger Games reunion as Lionsgate has started negotiations for the package. The deal isn’t done, but I’m betting that it gets done this week. This comes after Kent got a seven-figure deal for her first novel from Little, Brown. It has gotten great reviews. The book tells the story a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829 and who faces becoming the last woman to be publicly executed there. The film will tell the story of a tragic romance set against the odds during an endless Icelandic summer. Stay tuned.
‘Hunger Games’ Jennifer Lawrence, Gary Ross To Re-Team On Steinbeck’s ‘East Of Eden’ For Universal And Brian Grazer
EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer have closed a deal with the John Steinbeck estate for a new version of his seminal novel East Of Eden that will be developed as a re-team for The Hunger Games director Gary Ross and Jennifer Lawrence.
I’m told that the book is Ross’ favorite American novel and that the director plans to tell the generational story in two films. The novel previously was adapted into one picture, the 1955 Elia Kazan-directed film that starred James Dean and Richard Davalos as sons who compete for the attention of their farmer father in Salinas, CA. Ross wants Lawrence to play Cathy Ames, the cold and cruel mother of the boys and estranged wife of the farmer. The films will tell their stories, leading into the rivalry between their sons.
The studio and Imagine first acquired the 1952 novel back in 2004. This was after Steinbeck’s modern retelling of the Cain and Abel story shot back up the best-seller lists when Oprah Winfrey made it the first selection of the revived book club on her daytime talk show. I’m told that the original option lapsed, but then the studio and Grazer put together a new deal in a competitive situation, this one built around Ross and Lawrence, the latter of whom won the Academy Award in February for Silver Linings Playbook. Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley was very involved, as was Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, Uni’s co-president of production.
BREAKING: Since Gary Ross dropped out of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, he kicked the tires on a bunch of projects. He has now firmed up the Disney film Peter And The Starcatchers as his next directing vehicle. Ross has lost interest in directing The Secret Life Of Houdini, a project that Summit Entertainment is putting together. They never got as far as making a deal with Ross.
Ross is squarely focused on Disney’s adaptation of the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and the studio is waiting for a new draft of the Jesse Wigutow script that is scheduled to be delivered in October. The film hasn’t been budgeted, but Ross hopes to direct it as his next film as quickly as possible in 2013. The film is in spirit a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, a fantasy pirate adventure full that starts when Peter leads a group of orphaned boys sent to work as servants for King Zarboff. He winds up on a ship with Molly, who intrigues him with a story of how she is an apprentice Starcatcher, a group that collects “starstuff” that falls to Earth and gives power to those who find it. They must keep it away from the pirate Black Stache, as well as the king. The tale was already turned into a Broadway production.
A Ross commitment puts …
Gary Ross, director of the international blockbuster The Hunger Games delivered the commencement address today to graduates of USC’s School of Theatre. Nursing a cold, Ross enthusiastically urged the class to “live life fully.” At the same time, the director warned the 2012 grad class that he wasn’t going to “sugarcoat” the years of struggle they would likely have ahead as actors. Ross told the students that even if they found success in “the churning industry of global media” to always remember that “people who want to be stars get their teeth capped. People who want to be actors go to work.” Ross, who received USC’s Scripter Award in 2004 for Seabiscuit, spoke for about 15 minutes.
BREAKING… Lionsgate executives and reps around Gary Ross for weeks have expressed confidence that The Hunger Games director would helm the second installment of the book trilogy, Catching Fire. They expected the deal to go down right after Easter weekend. And they even went so far as to privately deny an Internet report that Ross had told the studio at the start of last week that he would not helm the sequel because he didn’t want to repeat himself. Instead, as a Lionsgate exec now tells me, “I am in shock.” Ross lobbied hard to get The Hunger Games and turned it into the biggest hit of his directing career. (Before that, he developed several serious historical dramatic projects under his deal at Universal that didn’t get off the ground.) Staying for a sure-fire hit and a sequel that audiences actually want to see made a lot of sense for Ross, particularly given how active he’d been already on Catching Fire. He and The Hunger Games trilogy author Suzanne Collins had been working on this sequel since last November. They drafted Slumdog Millionaire screenwriter Simon Beaufoy when The Hunger Games post-production schedule became too arduous for Ross to carry through with a plan to write the sequel outline and then pen the script with Collins. As for the notion that Ross would simply toss away the opportunity to direct Catching Fire because of a salary squabble, the logic seems flawed. The Seabiscuit director knows the benefit of riding a winner and not switching horses midstream. I understand the negotiations were handled by Lionsgate toppers Jon Feltheimer, Michael Burns, and movie chief Rob Friedman, newly arrived from Summit. That studio also changed up directors after its massive hit Twilight debuted — and the franchise not only wasn’t hurt but thrived at the box office. So let the speculation begin about Ross’s replacement. Here is the statement by Gary Ross just released by the studio:
Despite recent speculation in the media, and after difficult but sincere consideration, I have decided not to direct Catching Fire. As a writer and a director, I simply don’t have the time I need to write and prep the movie I would have wanted to make because of the fixed and tight production schedule.
I loved making The Hunger Games – it was the happiest experience of my professional life. Lionsgate was supportive of me in a manner that few directors ever experience in a franchise: they empowered me to make the film I wanted to make and backed the movie in a way that requires no explanation beyond the remarkable results. And contrary to what has been reported, negotiations with Lionsgate have not been problematic. They have also been very understanding of me through this difficult decision.
I also cannot say enough about the people I worked with: Producer Nina Jacobson, a great collaborator and a true friend; the brilliant Suzanne Collins, who entrusted us with her most amazing and important story; the gifted and remarkable Jennifer Lawrence whose performance exceeded my wildest expectations, and the rest of the incredible cast, whom I am proud to call my friends.
To the fans I want to say thank you for your support your faith, your enthusiasm and your trust. Hard as this may be to understand I am trying to keep that trust with you. Thank you all. It’s been a wonderful experience.
Here is Lionsgate’s statement:
Despite reports that have spread like wildfire on showbiz websites, we hear from multiple sources close to Catching Fire that director Gary Ross has not formally withdrawn from The Hunger Games sequel. Ross is off on a family vacation and couldn’t be reached, but these internet reports that described his withdrawal as definitive are simply not accurate.
There have also been reports about a tense standoff between Lionsgate and Fox over the sequel services of Jennifer Lawrence, who will reprise her role as Mystique in the sequel to X-Men: First Class. That has also been somewhat overblown; Fox had an option deal on Lawrence way before she signed on to play Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. That put Fox in first position. Since Lionsgate has a Catching Fire script done, Fox allowed them to go first.
As for the notion that Ross would simply toss away the opportunity to return and direct Catching Fire because of a salary squabble, the logic seems flawed. The Seabiscuit director knows the benefit of riding in a winner and not switching horses midstream. Ross lobbied hard to get The Hunger Games and turned it into the biggest hit of his directing career. Before that, he developed several serious historical dramatic projects under his deal at Universal that didn’t get off the ground. Staying for a sure-fire hit and a sequel that audiences actually want …
There are reports today that Lionsgate has started moving on Catching Fire, the second installment of The Hunger Games trilogy, with Simon Beaufoy adapting the Suzanne Collins novel, and Gary Ross returning as director of a film set for release November 22, 2013. Deadline readers might recall we told you all this last November, when progress actually began on the sequel…
The Avengers director Joss Whedon probably had his own designs on how to reveal his next film, but Mad Men‘s Abigail Spencer did it for him by telling Vulture she would be in the cast of his next film, that it would start production next month, and that it is a supernatural romance. The cynical part of me wonders if this is the supernatural romance In Your Eyes, which Whedon unveiled last Halloween as the second film (after Much Ado About Nothing) from his new microbudget feature factory Bellwether. Last I heard, Whedon wrote the script but Brin Hill will direct with Whedon’s Bellwether partner Kai Cole producing along with Night & Day Pictures’ Michael Roiff. In Your Eyes is a metaphysical love story about two seemingly polar opposites who are deeply connected in ways neither could have ever imagined.
EXCLUSIVE: Lionsgate is getting serious about the second installment of The Hunger Games. The mini-major is courting Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire scribe Simon Beaufoy to write Catching Fire, the second installment of the three book series that tracks the life and death adventures of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). I’m told that Gary Ross, who directed The Hunger Games, is coming back for the sequel. He originally intended to write the outline for the second film and script it with author Suzanne Collins (they teamed to do a lot of writing on the first film), but the post production schedule on The Hunger Games has made that difficult. The film opens March 23. There is no start date on the sequel, but it is high priority. Ross and producers Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik then focused on Beaufoy. Negotiations haven’t begun yet, but Lionsgate is pushing hard for Beaufoy. Aside from Slumdog Millionaire, Beaufoy also scripted 127 Hours, The Full Monty and most recently adapted Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. There is extra heat on the series after Lionsgate released the well received first trailer. Here is that trailer again:
Lionsgate has released its first trailer for The Hunger Games, the Gary Ross-directed adaptation of the first of a trilogy of Suzanne Collins novels. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth and will be released March 23. Coming off a bad quarter and surviving a takeover attempt by Carl Icahn, Lionsgate needs The Hunger Games to take it to the next level, the way that Twilight Saga did for Summit Entertainment. The Collins book series has been a bestselling phenomenon with a strong youth demographic, so the ingredients seem to be there.
EXCLUSIVE: I’m told that Jennifer Lawrence is in pole position for the role in The Silver Linings Playbook, the drama that David O Russell will direct with Mark Wahlberg starring. This was a coveted role that many young actresses wanted.
Among those actresses mentioned as being in the mix have been Rachel McAdams, Blake Lively, Anne Hathaway and Andrea Riseborough (Madonna’s W.E.). If things go the way I’m hearing, Lawrence would shoot the film after she completes the role of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, which Gary Ross is directing for Lionsgate. Production on Silver Linings will begin in the fall. Based on Matthew Quick’s novel, the film revolves around a former high school teacher who was institutionalized for depression and is then released into the care of his mother. He tries to win back his ex-wife but becomes involved with an eccentric neighbor with problems of her own. That is the coveted role.
UPDATE EXCLUSIVE: Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard have reached a milestone unusual in Hollywood: partners for 25 years. When they first got together, Grazer was a TV producer. Howard, after growing up on the small screen in The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days, had only directed a couple of TV movies and the low budget Roger Corman-produced Grand Theft Auto. Grazer and Howard have been at it together ever since, building a company that over 25 years has been one of the most consistent generators of content. Their TV series output includes 24, Parenthood, Arrested Development and Friday Night Lights; their movies have grossed $13.5 billion worldwide. That includes A Beautiful Mind, which won Howard the Academy Award for Best Director. Grazer and Howard shared Best Picture Oscars that night as well. Not everything they’ve done has succeeded, of course. They they took their company public and repurchased the shares; they helped launched and fold the online venture Pop.com; their most recent film together, the adult comedy The Dilemma, was a misfire that created controversy over the inclusion of the word “gay” in a trailer. They’ve had way more hits than misses.
In honor of Imagine’s Silver Anniversary, Deadline invited Howard and Grazer to look back over their quarter century together, and into a future that includes something never tried before by anyone in Hollywood. They’re adapting Stephen King’s 7-novel series The Dark Tower into a film trilogy, and a limited run TV series in between. It has pushed the envelope enough that their longtime home studio, Universal Pictures, postponed a planned late summer start until next year and asked the filmmakers to cut the budget. Some question the studio’s resolve on such a massive undertaking. The studio has to green light the film by next month or the rights revert to Imagine, Akiva Goldsman and King, who are determined to make it regardless.
DEADLINE: Not many marriages of any kind last 25 years in Hollywood. What is most important about the anniversary?
HOWARD: It’s such a challenging time to get movies made. And yet, look at all we have coming out. Tower Heist, the Gus Van Sant movie Restless, J Edgar with Clint Eastwood and Leo DiCaprio, Cowboys & Aliens, this big broad appeal four quadrant fantasy adventure story with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. With The Playboy Club getting on the air, and Parenthood getting picked up, I’m proud we’re doing what we’ve always done. A wide variety of projects that got made because we care and put in the energy to get them done in light of how difficult it is these days.
DEADLINE: Simple as that?
HOWARD: Because I’m in New York, we’re not forced to stare at each other’s faces 24/7. But I think that’s not really it. We love what we’re doing, we have fun doing it and our sensibilities are in sync. In a business that can create so many feelings of anxiety and self-doubt, I learned to trust in that. Brian is smart and cares about me doing well and feeling good about what I’m doing. It’s a partnership built on support. It has been that way since the beginning.
GRAZER: It works because we have similar tastes and not only gravitate toward the same material but also what lives inside the core of the movie it becomes. We’ve done, and Ron has directed, all kinds of genres. We have a common interest in the humanity aspect of a movie, regardless if it’s a comedy or a drama. We also share a similar work ethic.
DEADLINE: When you cover all genres, does Imagine have a wheelhouse? For a company looking to last, is it advisable to have one?
HOWARD: The process is what gets Brian and me excited, whatever the genre. Not specializing has given our company a sense of flexibility and adaptability to whatever the market or the zeitgeist is suggesting. We’ve always respected each other as creative people. If Brian loves something and I don’t quite get it, I’ll tell him that but I’ll never try to impede the progress. He’s the same with me. With Apollo 13, I wasn’t sure the genre would work, because space films hadn’t done that well. Brian was instantly so excited about it, and made me realize we were onto something. 8 Mile, I don’t know anything about rap. This was something he understood. I didn’t know how to make that movie, but I recognized a great idea. Whenever the two of us get excited, on films like Splash, Night Shift and Parenthood, those have resulted in the building blocks of the company. I’ve always liked TV but I phased it out for awhile and it was Brian’s perseverance that has made us strong in both TV and films. Independent companies are rarely strong in both.
GRAZER: What we’ve do is agree on the moral center of a project, but nobody’s better at finding the language of a particular movie than Ron. He’s got a grasp of understanding new vocabularies, whether it’s the The Da Vinci Code, fantasy like Cocoon or Splash, or Backdraft and The Grinch. He is great at inhabiting a world and completely understanding and expressing its language. In A Beautiful Mind, he entered that world and understood the medical science of mental illness. So there have been times where he led the charge, and I was drawn in by his excitement.
DEADLINE: What was the last hard conversation or professional disagreement you can remember?
HOWARD: I can’t think of one offhand, but even when we have disagreements, I can’t think of a case where one of us ever said, ‘Oh, please don’t do this.’ If there’s a lot of passion from one or the other, then the support of the company is going to be there.
As my colleague David Lieberman pointed out this morning, Lionsgate brass crowed to Wall Street analysts about their high expectations for the four movies that will be made from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games novels. Wait a minute, four movies? Lionsgate toppers inadvertently dropped a bit of a bombshell, because everybody thought there would be three movies, one for each book in the series. Right now, the notion of making four movies isn’t set in stone, but apparently, Lionsgate has been carefully observing predecessors who squeezed an extra film out of a book franchise. Namely Warner Bros on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Summit on Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. Unlike those two examples, Lionsgate has covered itself by signing the cast to option deals that encompass all four films. By contrast, the Harry Potter kids made set-for-life fortunes when their contracts had to be changed to add another film, and so did the Twilight Saga stars. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars here in the monies paid to Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson and the other cast members. Lionsgate will likely have to sweeten the cast deals if the films hit as big as everybody expects them to, but the indie studio will have the leverage. As for how the trilogy will be turned into four films, it’ll go much the way that Harry Potter and Twilight Saga did. The first two books will be the first two films. The last book will be split in half. The final installment, Mockingjay, is logistically ambitious and can be scaled up comfortably to cover two films. I believe that Gary Ross and Collins have done rewrites and already figured out how to create a satisfying ending to the third film.
Lionsgate and director Gary Ross have tapped another young face for a key role in The Hunger Games. He set newcomer Willow Shields to play Primrose Everdeen, sister of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). It is Primrose who originally gets selected to participate in The Hunger Games. She would get mauled by the competition, and her older sister, an expert archer, takes her place.
UPDATE: Gary Ross has added Jack Quaid (son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan) to play Marvel, the other combatant from District 1. Quaid is making his screen debut and plays a thuggish competitor from a district heavily favored to win The Hunger Games competition.
EARLIER: Leven Rambin has been cast by director Gary Ross as Glimmer in The Hunger Games, District 1′s combatant who’s pitted against District 12′s Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in the battle to the death competition that makes up the first film in the series. Rambin jumps to the big screen after playing recurring roles in One Tree Hill, Wizards of Waverly Place, CSI: Miami, Private Practice and Grey’s Anatomy. Rambin also was a regular in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, after graduating from the soaps from All My Children, which was just canceled by ABC. After Lionsgate and Ross ended a long audition process to cast Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth as the three leads, they are moving quickly to firm up the supporting cast. They’re setting 30 Rock‘s Elizabeth Banks to play Katniss’ handler Effie, and newcomers Dayo Okeniyi and Amandla Stenberg to play Thresh and Rue, who figure prominently in the first book of the Suzanne Collins trilogy. Rambin’s repped by APA and The Schiff Company.
EXCLUSIVE: Benicio Del Toro is signing on to play a deadly drug cartel enforcer in Savages, joining Aaron Johnson and Taylor Kitsch in the drama that Oliver Stone is directing, based on the Don Winslow bestseller. The project is moving toward a potential deal with Universal, though two other studios remain in discussions. Johnson and Kitsch are set to play Ben and Chon, two best friends who are growers of primo pot in Laguna. They share an unusual relationship with a trippy girl named O. Not only are they all best friends, she has a relationship with each. Their quiet lucrative life is interrupted by a visit from the drug enforcer Lado (Del Toro) who tells them they will have to work for his boss, a Mexican cartel matriarch. When they refuse, O is kidnapped, and they are forced to come up with a fortune in ransom. They plot to do it by hijacking the cartel’s drug supply, right under the nose of Lado, who is highly suspicious.
Stone is honing the script with Shane Salerno and Winslow. Jennifer Lawrence was going to play O, until she was set for the lead in the Gary Ross-directed The Hunger Games at Lionsgate. I’m told that Stone has cast a wide net for O, looking at established names and unknowns. Salma Hayek is also in the mix for the role of the Mexican …
I’m hearing that Winter’s Bone star Jennifer Lawrence has emerged as the front-runner for the lead role of Katniss Everdeen in Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games, the first installment of the novel trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Neither her reps nor Lionsgate would confirm, but talks should start next week. Gary Ross is directing a script by Billy Ray. Color Force’s Nina Jacobson is producing. A wide search came down to the wire this week, with Lawrence up against True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld, Little Miss Sunshine and Zombieland‘s Abigail Breslin, and Suckerpunch‘s Emily Browning. Katniss Everdeen has been the most sought-after role for a young actress since Rooney Mara won Lisbeth Salander in the David Fincher-directed adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for Sony Pictures.
The 20-year old Lawrence is coming off a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Winter’s Bone. She’d play the 16-year old Katniss, whose hunting skills with the bow and arrow give her a fighting chance when she volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in The Hunger Games, a deadly televised competition that takes place in the futuristic ruins of North America. Two teens are plucked by lottery from each of 12 districts that replaced the United States, and the competition is a fight to the death. Her teammate is a baker’s son who has also been chosen from her dirt-poor home district. The book has been a bestselling phenomenon that gives Lionsgate hopes …
EXCLUSIVE: Gary Ross is in early talks to direct The Hunger Games, the first installment of the novel trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The film is a joint production between Lionsgate and Color Force’s Nina Jacobson. Filming will start next year with a script by Billy Ray, who rewrote a draft by the author. The huge sales of the trilogy make the film adaptations a potential game-changer for Lionsgate, the way that Twilight was for Summit Entertainment. It has been a coveted job among directors (Three More Directors Circle ‘The Hunger Games’), and Lionsgate picture chief Joe Drake and Jacobson spent the past two weeks meeting candidates that included Sam Mendes, David Slade (also a contender for the X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2 job), Andrew Adamson, Rupert Sanders, and Nanny McPhee Returns helmer Susanna White. There was also talk about Francis Lawrence. It’s unclear who stayed in or out as Lionsgate focused on Ross, who directed Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. He isn’t set yet, but he is the choice. Let the negotiating games begin. Mendes, for instance, bowed out of contention last Friday, and I’m told it was because the MGM picture is clearing up and it looks like production on 007 could begin by late summer or early fall, 2011 with Mendes at the helm and Daniel Craig back in the Aston Martin.
UPDATE: I need to add three more directors to the list of filmmakers meeting in New York this week with Lionsgate brass for the feature adaption of the Suzanne Collins bestseller Hunger Games. I’d already reported that Gary Ross, Sam Mendes and David Slade were meeting, but am told that Lionsgate motion pictures group president Joe Drake and producer Nina Jacobson are also meeting with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe director Andrew Adamson; Rupert Sanders, a major British director of commercials including Microsoft’s Halo, who has been in the hunt on several of these big films to make his directing debut; and Susanna White, the Nanny McPhee Returns helmer who also directed episodes of the HBO mini Generation Kill and the British minis Bleak House and Jane Eyre. They could expand the field–Francis Lawrence seems a late candidate–but I gather it’s down to this group and that a decision should come shortly.
EARLIER: EXCLUSIVE: The next big film directing job in Hollywood will be decided late next week. That’s when Lionsgate chooses a filmmaker for The Hunger Games, the first installment of a trilogy based on the Suzanne Collins novel series that many feel could be the next Twilight. I’m told that Lionsgate (partnered with former Disney production topper Nina Jacobson’s Color Force) has gotten Billy Ray’s rewrite, and will meet with three elite directors next week before making a decision. Gary Ross, Sam Mendes and David …