UPDATE, 9:36 AM: Forget the trade reports that Joe Wright will be director of Fifty Shades Of Grey. His schedule doesn’t work and he’s completely out of the mix, I’ve learned. The process of choosing a director for the global blockbuster book has just begun, and all Universal can hope is that audiences get as hot and bothered when the film is released, as journos are in spinning rumors based on little more than preliminary conversations.
PREVIOUS, FRIDAY AM: Gotta call bullshit on the spate of reports that say Joe Wright either has the directing job or is close to getting it on Fifty Shades Of Grey, the Focus/Universal adaptation of the E.L. James sexy novel trilogy. The script by Kelly Marcel is in, and there’s no question that Focus, Universal and producers Mike De Luca and Dana Brunetti are beginning the search for a director. Insiders tell me this process has just begun — I don’t think anyone has evaluated that spec scene that Gus Van Sant directed with Alex Pettyfer, the one that prompted some outlets to report the actor was set to play Christian Grey. It is too early to call a winner, or even assemble a real short list. READ MORE »
EXCLUSIVE: Focus Features and Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are closing a deal to acquire the new Neil Gaiman novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane. Joe Wright is being attached to direct, and his Shoebox Films partner Paul Webster is coming aboard to produce with Hanks and Goetzman. The film will be a co-production between Playtone and Shoebox.
The Ocean At The End of the Lane will be published in June by William Morrow. According to jacket copy, it’s about about memory and magic and survival, about the power of stories and the darkness inside each of us. The narrator describes a tale that begins when he was seven and a lodger stole the family’s car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and a menace unleashed — within his family, and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a ramshackle farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang. Read More »
Not to be outdone by aggressive campaigning from its rivals, Focus Features this week moved boldly ahead with an Oscar campaign plan on two fronts for Friday’s release of Anna Karenina, which had its L.A. premiere last night, and its late-breaking December 28th entry, Promised Land, which is launching its awards bid with some private screenings for some very big heavy hitters.
Regarding the latter film, what do you do when you are the very last major movie of the year? Director Gus Van Sant only delivered the final cut of the film in the past two weeks, and knowing they are under the gun in getting this one seen in time for the earlier Academy voting (now taking place ten days earlier than usual with ballots in the mail December 17 and due back January 3rd), Focus is trying to get the word out within the industry. So before even showing it to most of the press they began an early “influencer” campaign that has featured private screenings and receptions at the plush theatre inside L.A.’s Soho House. Tuesday night Cameron Crowe held one with guests including Meryl Streep, Sam Mendes, Colin Firth, Kate Hudson, Ben Affleck (coming over after getting his GQ man of the year award) and other academy voters who were able to mingle with star and co-writer (with John Krasinski) Matt Damon. Earlier in November Aaron Sorkin hosted a similar screening that drew Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston and SAG President Ken Howard among others. Read More »
News’ Publishing Co. Valued at $10.2B by Australian Broker
After News Corp. splits in two next year, the publishing company will be worth $A10.2B assuming it’s debt-free, according to Australian broker CBA. That’s a much higher valuation than earlier estimates due to the $2B acquisition of Australia’s Consolidated Media Holdings, which gives News full ownership of Fox Sports channels and boosts its stake in pay-TV platform Foxtel. The publishing company, which will house Foxtel, its 61% stake in Realestate.com and 44% of Sky New Zealand, will derive 75% of its pre-tax earnings from Australia, the broker said. It predicts Foxtel and Fox Sports will account for 46% of that unit’s pre-tax earnings in fiscal 2014, with newspapers and HarperCollins contributing 37%. CBA expects News to focus on lifting U.S. investors’ awareness of the non-publishing assets’ strong cash flow, probably involving a global roadshow next year. It values the entertainment company at $54.6B with an earnings margin of around 21%, close to Disney’s but much lower than Discovery’s. It assumes News’ net debt of $5.4B will be shouldered by the entertainment arm. -Don Groves
Lebanon Takes Issue With Its Image In ‘Homeland’
Lebanon is considering legal action against the award-winning American TV series Homeland for its portrayal of Beirut as a city riven with terrorists. In the second episode of the second season of the CIA thriller, shown on the UK’s Channel 4, millions of viewers watched the protagonists hunt terrorists through the narrow, dirty and dangerous streets of Beirut. But Lebanon’s minister of tourism Fady Abboud expressed outrage at the “serious misrepresentation” of the city, which once was considered the Paris of the Middle East. “I raised this at the cabinet meeting and the president asked the minister for justice and the minister of communications to see what can be done.” Abboud added “I am calling on all young Lebanese adults to do what they need to do; to write blogs, to call the BBC and CNN to try to raise awareness that Beirut is not a city of Kalashnikov and war.” In the show, Claire Danes’ character continuously dons the hijab, but women in the part of Beirut where the scene is set are more often seen in skin-tight jeans, bouffant hairdoes and Jimmy Choos. Abbout urges Lebanese “youths to splice images of the war-torn Hamra of Homeland with the real street.”
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Tolstoy as re-imagined by Joe Wright and Tom Stoppard came to the Toronto International Film Festival in a big way Friday night as Focus Features’ adaptation of Anna Karenina made its North American debut. “They gave us a nice little standing ovation,” said a modest Wright who told me at the Soho House after-party this film means so much to him that he doesn’t know how he is going to follow it. He had great success early in his directing career with Oscar nominees like Pride & Prejudice and Atonement (which both featured his Anna Karenina star Keira Knightley) but then detoured to different kinds of films like The Soloist and action flick Hanna. Now that he’s back in this literary space he can appreciate the success more, he says.
Related: Toronto Oscar Talk: Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’ And Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’
Wright came up with the concept of staging the story in a theatre and then moving it in and out of that setting. It’s a unique and risky idea but really pays off in the execution. As Focus Features chief James Schamus told me, “This film is ravishing to look at.” A couple of critics have been naysayers but Schamus isn’t concerned about them. He says most will get it. Schamus plans an aggressive platform release strategy after the November 16th opening and should be relatively wide by December. Focus hopes it will draw upscale audiences who flock to this sort of thing but also younger women who may relate to the plight of Anna and the young actors cast here. It premiered in England earlier in the week and opens there this weekend.
Related: ‘Looper’, ‘On The Road’, Marion Cotillard Kick Off Festival Packed With Oscar Hopefuls
This Anna Karenina certainly is a lot different than the version MGM and Greta Garbo served up in the 1930s. Wright’s bold concept of losing some of the naturalism and putting it in a theatrical setting wasn’t in Stoppard’s script – and he had to convince the writer it was the way to go. But in the end it all worked out. He said the premiere at Toronto’s classic Elgin theatre was almost surreal since it looked like the theatre-in-the-film-in-a-theatre. It’s an instant contender for a Best Picture, Director and Screenplay slot. Knightley’s go-for-broke work is likely to land her in the Best Actress race again, and producers also hope Jude Law as her husband gets attention in the supporting category. Pic also can easily expect Oscar nominations in numerous categories including the cinematography of Seamus McGarvey, production design of Sarah Greenwood, costume design of Jacqueline Durran, and musical score of Dario Marianelli (who is already an Oscar winner for Atonement). Read More »
It’s official: Atonement director Joe Wright and star Keira Knightley are reteaming for Anna Karenina, the Working Title films adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel that was written by Tom Stoppard. The film will be distributed by Focus Features in the U.S. and Universal Pictures International worldwide sometime in the second half of 2012. Working Title co-chairs Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner are producing with Paul Webster; the trio were 2008 Oscar nominees as producers of Atonement. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: At a time when the Hollywood movie star landscape is being made over with new faces, Kick-Ass star Aaron Johnson is cementing his place in this new order. He has been offered two lead roles in high profile … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: DFFF, the German state feature film fund, has awarded €1.8 million ($2.3 million) to David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and €952,348 ($1.2 million) to Dark Castle’s The Apparition, starring Ashley Greene (Twilight: Eclipse). It’s also backing Joe Wright’s action movie … Read More »
Joe Wright, who directed The Soloist for London-based Working Title, is developing a live-action feature of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale. This adaptation, written by Abi Morgan (Brick Lane), has been particularly inspired by a production staged by The Little Angel Theatre … Read More »