EXCLUSIVE: HBO has set Ides Of March screenwriter and playwright Beau Willimon to write Jack Johnson, a miniseries about the life of the first African-American world heavyweight champion. The mini teams Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman and historian and documentary director Ken Burns. To be told in four to six parts, the mini is based on the Geoffrey C. Ward book Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise And Fall Of Jack Johnson, which Burns previously adapted into the Emmy-winning PBS documentary of the same name. Burns is aboard to direct. Hanks and Goetzman are exec producers, and Burns is too. Willimon is co-exec producer.
In the early 20th Century, Johnson was the class of the heavyweight division, a proud man of color who paid a high price for it. The main problem: he twice married white women and did not hide it or the fact that he liked to live well. He surprised both whites and blacks when he was given a title shot by Canadian fighter Tommy Burns and beat him. He further shook up the white status quo by knocking out ex-champ James J. Jeffries, who’d refused to fight Johnson while he held the belt but came out of retirement to be touted by the press and racist whites as the “Great White Hope.” In the aftermath of Jeffries’ defeat, celebrations by African-Americans led … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Michel Hazanavicius, who won the Oscar in February for helming The Artist, is in talks to direct the Universal Pictures/Playtone adaptation of the Erik Larson nonfiction book In The Garden Of Beasts. Tom Hanks will star in the film and produce it with partner Gary Goetzman, and I’m hearing that they are courting Natalie Portman to play his daughter in the harrowing pre-WWII tale.
Hanks will play William Dodd, a mild-mannered Chicago professor who becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany before the Nazis began to assert an iron grip across Europe. At first, his family embraces the vibrant scene in Berlin, and his young daughter Martha (the role they want Portman to play) in particular falls hard for the seduction and engages in a series of affairs with the handsome men of the Third Reich and even the first chief of the Gestapo. Soon enough, the ambassador gets reports of violence against Jews and even though his dispatches to the State Department are met with indifference, he continues to be concerned with the growing press censorship and the passage of shocking laws. It leads to the gradual realization of the horrific genocide that Hitler actually has planned for Europe and the world. Portman isn’t set yet, but I hear Hazanavicius is preparing to work on a draft with a writer that will soon be hired. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: HBO and Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are in early talks to acquire the Berlin Noir novel series by Philip Kerr. The plan is to develop this as a series that focuses on the police detective character Bernie Gunther in 1930s Germany, with the political climate and run-up to WWII and then the Cold War as the backdrop. Deal isn’t done yet, but I’m told that it will close. Numerous studios and producers pursued the property as a feature, but the author decided to go for a prestige series. He’s gone through enough development hell on the feature front on past books and HBO can point to enough successes like Game of Thrones to show the merits of an episodic adaptation of novels with storylines that span around 20 years. Playtone just produced the critically lauded Jay Roach-directed Sarah Palin pic Game Change, and after producing with Jann Wenner the 25th Anniversary of the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame, Playtone is producing each annual induction ceremony that will air on HBO. CAA repped Kerr in the book deal.
Yahoo says that it has exclusive online rights to the sci-fi adventure series Electric City, which will be shown in several parts beginning in 2012 supported by “a deeply immersive and interactive online experience that enhances the drama, mystery and intrigue of the series.” Electric City will be available in several languages including French and Spanish, and will be complemented by opportunities for fans to interact with the cast and creators. No word on financial terms. The announcement coincides with this week’s 2012 International CES consumer electronics show. Here’s the release:
LAS VEGAS, Nev., International CES (January 9, 2012) – Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO), the premier digital media company, today announced that they have joined forces with Playtone and Reliance Entertainment to bring Tom Hanks’ multi-dimensional animated series “Electric City” to Yahoo! in 2012. As the exclusive online broadcast home for “Electric City,” Yahoo! will bring Hanks’ vision and storytelling to a global audience. Set in a futuristic society, “Electric City” is a new 90- minute action-packed sci-fi adventure series, and marks Yahoo!’s first foray into original scripted programming. “Electric City” was created by and stars Tom Hanks.
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Cineflix Studios, the scripted division of Canadian producer Cineflix Media, is opening a Los Angeles office with the hire of Playtone development executive Miura Kite as EVP. She will join on November 7 and report to Cinefix Studios president Christina Wayne. Two weeks ago, another Playtone executive, Peter Friedlander, landed a top acquisition post at Netflix. As Head of Development at Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone, Kite oversaw television and film projects. She was co-producer on HBO’s miniseries The Pacific and the upcoming film Game Change. She also served as development executive on Where The Wild Things Are, five seasons of the HBO series Big Love, Mamma Mia!, the miniseries John Adams, Charlie Wilson’s War, and The Polar Express. She previously worked for for Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella’s Mirage Enterprises and Jonathan Demme’s Clinica Estetico. Cineflix Studios’ first U.S. series, Copper, was greenlighted earlier this year by BBC America.
EXCLUSIVE: Longtime Playtone development and production executive Peter Friedlander is joining Netflix, where he will oversee original content acquisition. While acquisitions of existing TV series has been the backbone of Netflix’s rise over the past few years, including high-profile recent deals with AMC and the CW, the streaming giant also signaled an expansion into original series with the recent deal with MRC for drama House Of Cards. Netflix’s major acquisitions/output deals have been orchestrated by Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. My understanding is that Friedlander will focus on series that will be produced exclusively for Netflix. Netflix has now become a go-to place for every production company shopping a direct-to-series project or a canceled network series they want to keep alive. The online distributor was recently pitched the new Charlie Sheen sitcom Anger Management and the Arrested Development reboot and had been in negotiations for a new comedy series from Weeds creator Jenji Kohan. While it is expanding into original series, Netflix does not plan to expand into development or production and will continue to license shows developed and produced by outside companies. Friedlander’s role will be to help identify and bring new series and other projects to Netflix. Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: As HBO prepares to unveil its epic-sized series adaptation of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones this Sunday, the payweb has begun talks to acquire the Neil Gaiman novel American Gods to be developed into another fantasy series. The project was brought to HBO by Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, and it was brought to them by Robert Richardson. The plan is for Richardson and Gaiman to write the pilot together.
Richardson is the renowned cinematographer who just completed Hugo Cabret and whose recent credits include Shutter Island, Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill. He is a regular collaborator with directors that include Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone and has won Oscars for The Aviator and JFK. It is his first significant scripting effort. He’ll do it in collaboration with Gaiman, a fanboy god for works like The Sandman, whose script work includes Beowulf. His novels Stardust and Coraline have been turned into films, and Neil Jordan is directing an adaption of Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.
American Gods, the 2002 book that won both the Stoker and Hugo Award among other prizes, lays out a battle between two sets of gods. One consists of the traditional gods and mythological creatures who got their power because people throughout history believed in them. They are losing steam as people’s beliefs wane and are in danger of being supplanted by a new set of gods who reflect America’s preoccupation with technological … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures is negotiating to turn the Green Day-fueled Broadway musical American Idiot into a feature film. Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning Milk scribe, is in talks to write the script, and Michael Mayer will direct. Mayer helmed the stage run of the musical, which is closing on Broadway April 24 and launching a tour in the fall. Black most recently scripted J. Edgar, the Clint Eastwood film that stars Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover.
The musical, which uses the songs of the punk band’s seminal 2004 album to tell the coming-of-age story of three small-town guys, was optioned before its opening last spring by Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. They previously turned the stage hit Mamma Mia! into a Universal film. It is expected that Green Day lead singer/songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong will be courted to play the role of the drug dealer St. Jimmy. Each time he did a stint in the role on Broadway, the grosses rose considerably at the St. James Theatre. The band was actively involved in the formation of the musical. Read More »
Ed Harris is set to star opposite Julianne Moore in HBO Films’ Game Change, which Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone has come on board to produce.
Harris will portray Sen. John McCain in the movie, which follows McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, from his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (Moore) as his running mate to their ultimate defeat in the general election. Based on the bestselling book Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, the film is directed by Jay Roach and written by Danny Strong, whose previous collaboration was HBO’s Recount, about the 2000 Florida recount. Playtone is producing in association with Roach’s Everyman Pictures, with Hanks, Goetzman and Roach executive producing. Strong serves as co-executive producer. Harris, who has 4 Oscar nominations, also played a presidential candidate in the 1992 feature comedy Running Mates. On HBO, he previously starred in the movie Empire Falls, which earned him an Emmy nomination.
In addition to Game Change, HBO also is developing a miniseries about former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, who already had a first look deal to hatch film projects with India-based Reliance Big Entertainment, have expanded the relationship to the web with Electric City, a serial saga about a Sin City-like world that is so electricity-starved that the power gets shut off each night–and bad things happen in the dark. The plan is to make the storyline a multi-platform digital experience with an animated web series, online social game and mobile application.
Hanks only got into Twitter mode this year, when he confirmed my first story break at Deadline, that he was directing and starring in Larry Crowne with Julia Roberts. But Playtone is very ambitious on the web front. I saw some footage of a test run of Electric City late last year, and it is cool atmospheric stuff with a lot of crime and action, and Hanks himself voicing the lead character. Reliance Big’s gaming arm Zapak will manage the whole project.
UPDATE On Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts Pic