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Ambyr Childers Signs With WME, Lands ‘Gangster Squad’

Mike Fleming

Ambyr ChildersAmbyr Childers, who played the daughter of the faith founder (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film for Megan Ellison’s Annapurna and The Weinstein Company, has landed a key role in Gangster Squad, the Ruben Fleischer-directed period drama for Warner Bros. The film stars Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin. Childers just signed with WME and remains managed by McKeon-Myones Management.

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‘Fast’ Schedule Forces Justin Lin To Exit ‘Terminator’, But He Might Be Back

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Things are starting to move on The Terminator franchise, but a plan by rights owner Megan Ellison and Arnold Schwarzenegger to put the first of two pictures in production for the fourth quarter of 2012 has forced director Justin Lin to drop out. But borrowing the film’s signature phrase “I’ll be back,” Lin has left the door open to a return if Ellison and Schwarzenegger will wait until he completes the sixth installment of The Fast and the Furious franchise.

The Terminator franchise has been under the radar since Ellison’s Annapurna Films spent over $20 million to buy film rights during the Cannes Film Festival, with Lin and Schwarzenegger attached. Lin wants to make the film but simply won’t be available, the same situation that prompted him to withdraw from Summit’s Highlander. Lin has been working closely with Schwarzenegger and Ellison to figure a way to end the James Cameron-hatched battle between humans and the cyborgs of Skynet. It would require some effort for Ellison to get the film underway by late next year. She hasn’t got a script and I don’t think she’s even hired a screenwriter yet. She also hasn’t set a studio partner, even though several are interested. Read More »

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Toronto: Megan Ellison’s COO Robert Barnum Exits

By | Monday September 12, 2011 @ 8:21am PDT
Mike Fleming

Rob Barnum, who was COO of Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures banner, has quietly left the company within the past few weeks. Behind the scenes, they are saying it was amicable and that Barnum wanted to be more of a creative producer on films instead of the executive capacity he served at Annapurna. Ellison has become one of the most prominent financiers of high-end feature fare, and she has been the catalyst for such pictures as The Terminator films that have Justin Lin and Arnold Schwarzenegger attached; the Kathryn Bigelow-directed drama about Navy SEAL Team 6′s hunt for 9/11 mastermind terrorist Osama bin Laden;  Paul Thomas Anderson’s untitled film; and the John Hillcoat-directed The Wettest County in the World. Ellison is very hands on with these projects, hasn’t set a replacement for Barnum and might not. I’m told that Barnum has several producing projects percolating, two with Lucas Foster and one with Cassian Elwes, and is building a film fund.

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Sony Pictures Bearing Down On Kathryn Bigelow’s Bin Laden Movie

By | Tuesday May 24, 2011 @ 4:41pm PDT
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: I’m told that Sony Pictures is negotiating to acquire U.S. distribution rights to the untitled Kathryn Bigelow-directed drama about Navy SEAL Team 6′s hunt for Osama bin Laden. Mark Boal, Bigelow’s partner on the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, is finalizing a script that changes the film from a drama about an unsuccessful attempt to hunt the Al Qaeda leader into a methodical hunt that culminates in his death. The film is being fully financed by Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures. Production will start in the early fall and the pic will be ready for release in 2012.

Deadline pegged the Bigelow-Boal film — formerly titled Killing Bin Laden – as a potentially hot project the night that President Barack Obama interrupted programming to announce that the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center had finally been located and killed. It most certainly has worked out that way. The project was far along at this point, and they were talking to actors like Joel Edgerton even before bin Laden was killed. Sony’s Amy Pascal has been aggressive about the film since that night, and the studio and others heard the pitch from Boal right before buyers headed off to the Cannes Film Festival. Read More »

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CANNES: FilmDistrict Acquires U.S. Rights To Joe Gordon-Levitt/Bruce Willis Sci-Fi Action Film ‘Looper’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: A frenzied Saturday auction on the Croisette has ended with FilmDistrict in final negotiations for U.S. distribution rights to Looper, the Rian Johnson-directed science fiction film that stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and Bruce Willis. There were at least six bidders spanning major studios and independents, and it sounds like some serious upfront money was paid. But the intriguing part is that the deal orchestrated between CAA and FilmDistrict’s Peter Schlessel will likely end in FilmDistrict using an option with Sony Pictures, which would release and market the film through the TriStar label. That replicates the distribution structure of District 9, which Schlessel acquired while he was at Sony. The picture has a similarly brainy construct and is also reminiscent of the first Terminator.

Johnson wrote the script, about a contract killer who works for the mob of the future, and who kills victims  that are sent back in time 30 years, so there is no trace of the crime in the future. It’s a great gig, until the killer (Gordon-Levitt) recognizes that one of his targets (Willis) is a futuristic version of himself. Piper Perabo, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels also star. The film was financed by Endgame’s James Stern, who produced with Johnson’s partner Ram Bergman.

CAA still has to paper the deal, but that likely gives Sony and Amy Pascal its second release schedule addition in the last 24 hours. As Deadline revealed early Saturday, the studio acquired the David Frankel-directed Great Hope Springs with Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell starring. Read More »

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CANNES: Forecast Strong For ‘The Wettest County In The World’

Mike Fleming

The project that has the Cannes buying crowd most hot and bothered at the moment is the John Hillcoat-directed The Wettest County in the World. Hillcoat, who directed The Road, here covers a band of Depression Era bootleggers in the South, with Shia La Beouf, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska starring. I’m told that Relativity Media has posted the high bid so far, just shy of $6 million. This might drag out, with The Weinstein Company, CBS Films, FilmDistrict hot and bothered, with Fox Searchlight and Focus also in the mix. Buyers read a script and watched a sizzle reel. It has been an interesting festival, with the appetite of the old days restored, with bidders having to test the new resolve to not overpay and to be disciplined. Pic’s being sold by CAA with Cassian Elwes involved on behalf of Michael Benaroya, who funded the pic with Megan Ellison.

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Cannes: Megan Ellison Wins ‘Terminator’ Rights Auction

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Megan Ellison has won an auction for the rights to make at least two more installments of The Terminator franchise, with Fast Five’s Justin Lin attached to direct and Arnold Schwarzenegger attached to star. The deal came down to Ellison’s Annapurna Films and Lionsgate, which seemed to have had the project sewn up until she came forward with a dramatic bid. The auction at the time was for a guarantee for at least half of the $29.5 million paid by hedge fund Pacificor to pull the franchise out of bankruptcy. Unclear what the winning amount was, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it hit the $20 million mark. CAA brokered the deal.

Deadline revealed the two finalists in the auction on Wednesday, and I’m told that the deal closed late Thursday. Ellison, the daughter or Oracle founder Larry Ellison, and sister of Paramount-based Skydance producer/financier David Ellison, is winging her way to Cannes right now. She has a lot going on here. Read More »

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Lionsgate, Megan Ellison In Battle For ‘Terminator’ With Arnold Schwarzenegger And ‘Fast Five’s Justin Lin

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: A high-stakes battle is being waged for the right to relaunch The Terminator, with Fast Five helmer Justin Lin attached to direct and Arnold Schwarzenegger attached to reprise his signature role in one of filmdom’s most iconic franchises. Yesterday, it looked like Lionsgate would win the property with an outright purchase, with an upfront payment of at least half of the $29.5 million that Pacificor spent to claim the property in a bankruptcy auction. That was until Megan Ellison and her Annapurna Films came in with a bid that was higher. They are now fighting it out. As she usually does when she commits to a film, Ellison is staking that amount without having a distributor locked in place.

As Deadline revealed late last month, CAA brought out the package to the town, the first real activity on The Terminator project since February 2010, when the property emerged from a bankruptcy auction and into the possession of Pacificor. While there were several dealmaking scenarios offered, including an option and first dollar gross fees, it’s understandable why an outright purchase would be most attractive to the rights holders.

The Santa Barbara-based hedge fund posted a bid of $29.5 million, with the promise that additional multimillion-dollar payments for each film would go to Halcyon, the company that made the 2009 McG-directed Terminator Salvation. That’s a lot of money to lay out for an extended period of time, with interest costs rising.

I’m told that the deal will close shortly, and that the project could become another hot Schwarzenegger title at the Cannes Film Festival market that’s just getting under way. It would be the third Schwarzenegger movie there. Lionsgate also has Schwarzenegger in the action film The Last Stand, set up as the English language debut of Kim–ji-Woon. Schwarzenegger is also at the center of a QED-funded project that Schwarzenegger is also attached to star in, Cry Macho. Lionsgate has long been interested in extending the James Cameron-created universe of Skynet, John and Sara Connor, and the indestructible cyborgs. In fact, when Halcyon ran out of money and went into bankruptcy,  Pacificor beat out a combined bid by Lionsgate and Sony planning to make back-to-back sequels to bring the franchise to a natural creative conclusion. Read More »

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Harvey Weinstein Buys World Rights To Paul Thomas Anderson’s Untitled Next Film

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: The Weinstein Company has won a quiet but fevered bidding battle for worldwide distribution rights to the untitled next film by Paul Thomas Anderson. The film begins production June 13, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix so far set to star. Megan Ellison is financing. It is Anderson’s first trip behind the camera since There Will Be Blood.

Hoffman and Phoenix are locked. As for the actresses, I’m told that Anderson is eyeing such women as Madisen Beaty (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) for a role, with Amy Adams, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo‘s Lena Endre and Laura Dern also mentioned as actresses Anderson is interested in. The auction was held at CAA headquarters late last week, with Fox Searchlight also squarely in the mix.

This is the project that Anderson has worked on for a long time, once under the title The Master. He has greatly overhauled the script and now, Hoffman stars as a man who returns after witnessing the horrors of WWII and tries to rediscover who he is in post-war America. He creates a belief system, something that catches on with other lost souls. The film is fully financed by Ellison’s Annapurna banner. At a time when the implosion of the indie film marketplace made pricey auteur films so hard to finance, Ellison has emerged as something of a godsend to the small group of auteurs she is working with. She’s enabled Anderson to make the movie at or near the $35 million budget the film was going to cost back when Universal stepped away. Read More »

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DreamWorks Enters WikiLeaks Movie Sweepstakes, Buying Two Major Books

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: DreamWorks has officially entered the derby to turn the story of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks into a feature film. The studio has acquired rights to two books by pivotal players in the WikiLeaks drama. DreamWorks has secured screen rights to Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website, the Crown book by Daniel Domscheit-Berg. He’s the former top WikiLeaks former executive who defected because he wanted WikiLeaks to exercise journalistic discretion instead of the document dump that took place.  ICM brokered that deal. DreamWorks has also bought WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, written by David Leigh and Luke Harding, the two journalists from the UK-based The Guardian who worked with Assange on bringing his first revelations into play through their paper,  as well as Der Spiegel and The New York Times. That book was published by Guardian Books. They detail their dealings with Assange, who at one point hid from the CIA in Leigh’s London house. The book covers the WikiLeaks phenomenon from its 2006 launch onward.

I’m told that DreamWorks executives from Stacey Snider, Steve Spielberg to co-presidents Holly Bario and Mark Sourian, are intrigued enough by the Assange story to cobble together rights that will allow them to attack the story creatively from any of several angles. They are content to gather string, but haven’t hired a writer yet. A good … Read More »

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Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures Acquiring Reteam From Charlie Kaufman And Spike Jonze

By | Tuesday March 1, 2011 @ 2:09pm PST
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures is negotiating to acquire an untitled satire that will re-team screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, the tandem behind the mind-benders Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. The project was pitched recently to financiers, and I’m told it’s a satire about how world leaders gather to figure out all the seismic events that will take place in the worlds, from oil prices to wars that will be waged. Ellison, the daughter of Oracle founder Larry Ellison and sister of Paramount-based financier-producer David Ellison, has become an active buyer of tastemaker film projects that include The Wettest County in the World and Cogan’s Trade, as well as one of the projects mobilizing on Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. She bought the Wong Kar-Wai-directed martial arts pic Grandmasters, and was an executive producer on the Joel and Ethan Coen-directed True Grit, which became a Best Picture Oscar nominee.

It’s not the only Kaufman project in the mix. I’m told he’s looking to direct his script Frank Or Francis. The film chronicles a volatile back and forth between a film director (Frank) and an online blogger (Francis), who takes delight in berating his cinematic talent. The project’s at Sony Pictures for the moment, and names like Adaptation’s Meryl Streep being talked about for roles.

Jonze and Ellison are repped by CAA, Kaufman by WME.

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Berlin: Weinstein Co Acquires UK, Aussie Rights On ‘Grandmasters’ As U.S. Heats Up

By | Friday February 18, 2011 @ 4:13pm PST
Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: The Weinstein Company has closed a deal for United Kingdom and Australian distribution rights to The Grandmasters, the Wong Kar-wai-directed Chinese language martial arts film. Harvey Weinstein is among a small group vying for domestic rights, with Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics also in the mix. TWC’s investment was north of $1 million for the offshore rights. Buyers were shown about 15 minutes of expertly choreographed martial arts footage, and also were given a 5-page synopsis of the film. Distributors are going on faith that the director’s vision holds together in a cohesive story. The film is the life story of the martial artist Ip Man, and Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen are in the cast. CAA is repping The Grandmasters.

The Grandmasters was one of the hottest titles to be shown to buyers at Berlin, where Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Productions became an investor in the film for a rumored $3 million. The other title that has buyers reaching for their wallets is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the Tomas Alfredson-directed adaptation of the John Le Carre thriller that stars Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy. Both Oldman and Hardy next star in The Dark Knight Rises.

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‘Hurt Locker’s Mark Boal At Center Of WikiLeaks Film Deal As Other Julian Assange Movies Mobilize

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: The Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal and Management 360 have partnered with financier/producer Megan Ellison to option The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, an article about WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange in The New York Times Magazine written by the newspaper’s executive editor Bill Keller. Ellison, an exec producer of True Grit, will finance the film through her Annapurna Pictures and she, Boal and Management 360 will produce. Boal might write the film, but that will depend on if he has time. In addition to the Kathryn Bigelow-directed Triple Frontier with Tom Hanks, Boal is collaborating with Bigelow on a drama that might go sooner, about a secret Middle East mission movie. If Boal is going to write the Assange script, he will have to do it quickly.

His is just the latest in a growing number of Julian Assange/WikiLeaks movies that should continue to swell as more books about the controversial figure get published. I’ve heard DreamWorks is circling Inside WikiLeaks, a book that will be released February 15. It is written by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Assange’s number 2  at WikiLeaks who defected because he wanted WikiLeaks to apply journalistic discretion in the dispersal of secret government documents while Assange wanted to release as many as he could get his hands on.

There is also the $1.5 million memoir by Assange. Movie/TV rights will be handled by CAA for lit agency … Read More »

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