EXCLUSIVE:Paramount Pictures has bought the rights to the yet-unpublished young-adult fantasy novel An Ember In The Ashes for veteran producer Mark Johnson, the force behind their hugely successful Chronicles Of Narnia film franchise. Johnson, whose has a stellar reputation for finding and developing literary material for the screen (The Notebook), had an inside track on AnEmber In The Ashes. Haroon “Boon” Saleem, apparently mentioned to Johnson, whom he worked with while at Walden Media, that his sister — a former editor at The Washington Post –had written a book geared to the young-adult market and he thought Johnson should read it. The producer took it to the studio and they closed the deal.
Saleem, who oversaw the development of the third Narnia film, 2010′s The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, will receive a producing credit when the film makes it to the screen. The story, written under the pseudonym L.S. London, has been described as Romeo and Juliet meets Games of Thrones and set in its own world which is half ancient Rome and half Mecca. The project will go to publishers early next year with a big advantage of already having the screen rights sold.
Saleem was a former creative executive at Overbrook Entertainment who moved on to socially conscious pursuits. He produced the pre-show telecast for Stand Up for Cancer; founded of the grassroots political organization Generation for Change, which raised more than … Read More »
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has just released the list of a record-setting 76 contenders for the 2013 Best Foreign Language Film category and members start viewing them in a two-month process that begins Friday night. But in a year that has produced any number of eye opening choices and omissions, there may be changes in store for next time that could significantly alter the process as it has been played for decades. One change could involve eligibility dates. Rules now state a country can’t enter a film unless it has opened in that country by September 30th of the qualifying year. That rule eliminated the high profile Cannes Festival Palme d’Or winner Blue Is The Warmest Colorwhich doesn’t open in France until Wednesday, nine days after the cutoff date. It’s a rule that doesn’t really reflect the realities of international distribution these days as some American distributors have recently complained. The Academy has maintained it is necessary just so all the films can be screened in time before nominations have to be announced in January.
Also, continuing controversies due to the increasing politicization of the selection process of Foreign Language film entries in their individual countries could lead to what returning Foreign Language Committee Chairman Mark Johnson termed “radical” changes in the process and rules leading to the choice of the final five nominees.
That was the overall consensus from a panel of producers at the cable industry trade show this morning that featured Marc Cherry (who created Desperate Housewives), Mark Johnson (Executive Producer of Breaking Bad), and Joe Weisberg (creator of The Americans). “Some of the most exciting work is being done on cable,” says Cherry who’s about to introduce Devious Maids on Lifetime. Networks are “so hungry for viewers that they’re willing to take risks.” He relishes the opportunity to develop a series without having to generate 23 or more episodes. With the intense plotting of a soap opera “the workload is just overwhelming…You can kind of feel it around episode 14 where the story starts to not make sense.” With Devious Maids “I had every episode plotted out. I couldn’t do that” with Desperate Housewives. Weisberg says he “didn’t think I had it in me” to handle the broadcast networks’ demands. “In cable you could do 13 episodes and then take a couple of months off.” Read More »
The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is still basking in the glow of its successful Academy general membership meeting on Saturday in LA and NY. So Academy President Hawk Koch and CEO Dawn Hudson sent out a letter summarizing the event to the Acad’s nearly 6,000-person membership Tuesday night. They noted it was a ”first” in the Academy’s 85 years and indicated the “positive response” may indeed make this an “annual event”. The email recounted some of the “highlights” of the meeting for ”those of you unable to attend”. This included the decision to send DVDs of nominated Foreign Films and Doc Shorts to all members, an unprecedented move enabling everyone in the Academy to vote on all 24 categories for the first time ever. It also detailed lifting numerical quotas for bringing in new members while not relaxing critieria for membership. And it recounted numerous activities at the Academy including (in just ”the last two weeks”) film festival grants, fresh collections for its archives, and seminars on new technology and educational programs “to inspire our next generation of filmmakers”. Oddly, the email made no mention of the Academy’s most ambitious activity: the building of a museum, which was a major point of discussion (by Governor Kathleen Kennedy) at the weekend meeting.
Also not mentioned at all in the letter – which came on the eve of the opening of the Cannes Film Festival – was the contentious exchange about the way the Foreign Language film … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Michael R. Roskam, who got a Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar nomination last year for his Belgian film Bullhead, is at the center of a new HBO pilot script order, one which teams him with Michael Mann and Breaking Bad executive producer Mark Johnson. HBO has ordered a pilot script for a drama titled Buda Bridge, a Belgian-set crime story that takes place in Brussels in the near future. It unfolds when a woman is found dead on Buda Bridge, which leads to a series of violent crimes and strange science that bring mayhem to the dark capital of the European state.
Roskam is writing the script and will direct the pilot. Mann, who teamed with David Milch for HBO on the horse racing series Luck (which got cancelled following its second season renewal when multiple horses perished) is executive producer along with Johnson, whose AMC hit Breaking Bad is heading into its fifth and final season. Roskam will be co-executive producer.
All of this series action comes out of the awards season activity on Roskam’s breakout film Bullhead, which got Roskam signed with UTA and which as different as anything that I’ve seen in quite awhile. The film focused on the cattle trade, and the illicit practice of injecting those animals with synthetic hormones to spur growth. That … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: 20th Century Fox had acquired Riders On The Storm, a pitch for an action film that will be written by Sean O’Keefe. The story follows a sophisticated heist crew that pulls off high-end robberies during severe weather events. The deal was worth mid-six figures. Davis Entertainment’s John Davis and John Fox are producing with Richard Leibowitz of Union Entertainment. The project originated as a video game concept hatched by Richard Wickliffe.
Union Entertainment was going to turn it into a vidgame, but instead it morphed into the feature pitch that had several studios interested when ICM pitched it. O’Keefe split up with writing partner Will Staples, but they are working together on a rewrite of the Lorenzo Carcaterra novel Apaches for Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney. They also wrote World’s Most Wanted for Neal Moritz and Universal and an Alaskan adventure movie for Walden Media and producer Mark Johnson. O’Keefe is managed by Brian Lutz.
FilmDistrict has released a full-length trailer for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the remake of the creepy 1973 telepic made at a time when ABC was cranking out the scares with such films as Bad Ronald and Trilogy of Terror. Troy Nixey directed it and Guillermo del Toro produced with Mark Johnson. Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison star. The film will close the Los Angeles Film Festival and opens wide in theaters Aug. 26.
EXCLUSIVE: Holly Hunter has signed a deal to star in Still I Rise, joining Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal in the Daniel Barnz-directed drama about the campaign by a teacher and mother to transform a quality of education in a Pittsburgh inner-city public school. Hunter will play the head of the teachers union. Barnz recently rewrote the Brin Hill screenplay. Mark Johnson is producing through his Gran Via Productions banner. The film will be distributed domestically by 20th Century Fox.
At the same time, Hunter is in negotiations to star alongside Hailee Steinfeld in Romeo and Juliet, a Julian Fellowes-scripted version of the classic tale, directed by Carlo Carlei. Fellowes will produce with Gabriele Muccino, Ileen Maisel and Mark Ordesky. The Oscar-winning actress has most recently earned two Emmy noms for her work in the TNT drama Saving Grace. She’s repped by ICM and Management 360, while True Grit’s Steinfeld is repped by ICM.
EXCLUSIVE: Walden Media has has set a May 23 start in Pittsburgh on Still I Rise, the working title of a drama that will star Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. Daniel Barnz, who most recently directed Beastly, will helm the film. Barnz recently rewrote the Brin Hill screenplay. Mark Johnson is producing through his Gran Via Productions banner. The film will be distributed domestically by 20th Century Fox.
The drama is about two mothers who channel frustration into action and join forces to transform an inner-city public school. Inspired by current events, the film takes aim at the crisis of public education in America. Walden’s Michael Bostick and Morgan Palmer are overseeing the project. Gyllenhaal just completed the Tanya Wexler-directed Hysteria. Davis, who won the Tony last year for Fences, just wrapped the DreamWorks adaptation of the Kathryn Stockett novel The Help and is shooting the Stephen Daldry-directed Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Barnz is repped by WME, Gyllenhaal by CAA and Schiff Company and Davis by APA and Principal Entertainment.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark has been acquired for domestic distribution by Peter Schlessel and Bob Berney’s FilmDistrict. The film will get an August 12 release and was the final and perhaps most potentially commercial of the films made by Miramax Films before the library was sold last year. The Troy Nixey-directed remake of the 1973 TV movie was produced by Guillermo Del Toro and Mark Johnson, and stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce. Del Toro wrote the script with Matthew Robbins. The film follows a family that moves to Rhode Island to an old mansion they plan to restore. Pint-sized creatures dwelling there want the girl. The film got a rise out of the Comic-Con crowd last year, but took forever to land because of the library sale. It fits FilmDistrict’s goal to find films that can play on 2500 screens and above. Here’s a recent trailer:
Producer Mark Johnson is head of the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Foreign Language committee and tells me his panel will meet next Tuesday to deal with any eligibility problems that may arise from the final list of official submissions of entries due October 1st from individual countries. Then the Academy will begin a two-tiered system of screenings of the contenders in mid-October and won’t finish until shortly before nominations are announced on January 25th. But controversy is already swirling around Italy’s entry, not because of what the country chose but what it didn’t. Snubbed was Magnolia’s Italian melodrama I Am Love starring Oscar winner Tilda Swinton which is one of the year’s higher profile foreign language films grossing nearly $5 million in the U.S. alone. It’s also generating plenty of awards buzz again for Swinton’s work in which the Scottish actress speaks in Italian with a Russian accent –- no mean feat.
Italy instead went with La Prima Cosa Bella (The First Beautiful Thing), a local hit family drama that won good critical notice but doesn’t have nearly the international profile of the Swinton flick. Magnolia’s President Eamonn Bowles, while admitting he hasn’t seen the film that was chosen, says he is outraged by the oversight of his contender. “Every year, there’s something frustrating, but this is a particularly galling one. To be snubbed is … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: MYST, the all-time top selling computer adventure game franchise, has been optioned for live action film treatment. Producers Hunt Lowry and Mark Johnson have partnered with Adrian Vanderbosch and Isaac Testerman of Mysteria Film Group. Mysteria got the rights from game developers Cyan Worlds. MYST debuted in 1993 and expanded with four top-selling sequels. It established a market for multi-platform CD-ROM gaming and continues to be the biggest selling adventure game ever.
Trouble is, MYST became popular for the atmospheric experience it provided, but it isn’t as easily adaptable as some vidgames because it doesn’t have a simple linear narrative. It does have a strong mythology that creates possibilities, though. Johnson is the producer of the upcoming The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and the hope is to bring the distinctive world of Myst as was done with Narnia. Read More »
I’m told Oscar-winning producer Mark Johnson and his Gran VIA production company have signed with UTA for representation in television. Johnson, who’s produced everything on the big screen from Rain Man to The Notebook to the Chronicles of Narnia series, is looking to significantly expand his presence on the small screen. The agency has already received interest from networks and studios regarding a possible exclusive arrangement. Johnson exec-produced 2004′s CBS drama The Guardian with Simon Baker. And currently he’s an exec producer of AMC’s Emmy-nominated Breaking Bad, whose star Bryan Cranston is also repped by UTA.