Movie making is often an insane business. But moguls turn out to be pretty rational about it according to a chapter in an upcoming economics text and a recent article in an academic journal. Researchers say that studios wisely bet on stories and directors. Star worship “is all but a myth,” writes S. Abraham Ravid — a finance professor at Yeshiva University — in The Economics Of Creativity, to be published next month. “Stars can still sell magazines, but not movies.” Why do studios pay big bucks for Academy Award-winners? It’s part of a strategy, along with co-financing, to reduce the risk of making big-budget films — especially R-rated ones, which represent the biggest gambles. Stars should draw at least some fans, even to a stinker of a movie, the theory goes. “In an industry where a big failure is much more dreaded than a big success is wished for, insurance is worth its weight in gold, or in eight-figure salaries.”
EXCLUSIVE: Film executive Franklin Leonard has maintained The Black List for the past six years to champion hundreds of talented screenwriters and unproduced scripts. Well over 125 screenplays have been made into movies, and they’re responsible for 20 Oscars and roughly $10 billion in worldwide grosses. Today Leonard expands The Black List by launching a website that tracks Hollywood’s most popular scripts in real time. Blcklst.com bases its info on polling hundreds of high level studio and production company executives who are directly involved in moviemaking. The subscriber-only web site ($20 a month) will expand the pool of movie professionals to include agents and directors who will identify the scripts they like best. Blcklst.com algorithms will sort them by a number of criteria: most popular, and most popular dramas or comedies of the past week, month or whatever. For example, on Tuesday night, I broke news of the sale to Warner Bros of The Imitation Game about math genius Alan Turing. It has been the most popular available new script among several hundred beta-test users of Blcklst.com over the past couple of months.
One thing, though, Leonard’s website will not be open to the general public, however. Verified membership will be expanded to include agents, managers, directors, actors, and writers who will rate scripts according to what they like best. Additionally, the verified subscription format is designed to prevent data manipulation. Interestingly, there will be no “worst of” categories. (Gee where’s the fun if there’s no trashing or bashing?) The parameters …
After narrowing its development field to six scripts, which had been undergoing thorough evaluation for the past two months, AMC ultimately decided not to pick up any of them to pilot at this time. This does not mean that all six projects are dead. I hear that two of them, The Voyage and an untitled racing project, will remain in contention and are expected to be redeveloped. Space epic Voyage, from writer/executive producer John Shiban and executive producer Lynda Obst, is described as a grounded look at human beings’ first contact with extraterrestrial life seen through the eyes of an ambitious female scientist and her team at Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Sony TV is producing.
What’s cooking at AMC? It’s the cable network’s second annual pilot script showcase called “bake-off,” which took place from Monday to Thursday this week at a hotel in Los Angeles. In it, six scripts identified by AMC brass as finalists for a pilot order faced off in a series of elaborate presentations, with the producing team for each project showing a promo reel and each creator pitching in detail the series beyond the pilot, including mapping out the first season. In the next couple of weeks, AMC executives will mull over the presentations and are expected to announce one or two winners from the bake-off, whose scripts will go to pilot. I hear that the number of pilot pickups will depend on whether AMC lands the MRC-produced David Fincher-Kevin Spacey drama project House of Cards. AMC is one of several cable networks bidding on the project, with HBO and Starz also said to be in the running. If AMC lands House of Cards, it is expected to pick up one pilot developed internally; if not, two of the six scripts showcased this week will probably get green light.
This is the second year AMC is doing the bake-off. Among the projects competing in last year’s event was Hell on Wheels, which went to pilot and then to series.
It wasn’t unprovoked. Actress Jessica Alba dissed screenwriters to Elle magazine. Here’s the posting from Big Fish and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory scripter John August’s blog:
I have to believe she was misquoted, or excerpted in some unflattering way, because Jessica Alba couldn’t have actually said this:
Good actors, never use the script unless it’s amazing writing. All the good actors I’ve worked with, they all say whatever they want to say.
Oh, Jessica. Where to start?
Scripts aren’t just the dialogue. Screenplays reflect the entire movie in written form, including those moments when you don’t speak. Do you know the real reason we hold table readings in pre-production? So the actors will read the entire script at least once.
Following your logic, you’ve never been in a movie with both good actors and amazing writing. That may be true, but it might hurt the feelings of David Wain, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller.
You’re saying your co-stars who delivered their lines as written are not “good actors.” Awkward.
You’re setting dangerous expectations. So if an aspiring actor wishes to be “good,” she should say whatever she wants to say? That’s pretty terrible advice.
Screenwriters can be your best friends. We are pushovers for attractive people who pay attention to us. I wrote that bathtub scene in Big Fish because Jessica Lange made brief eye contact with me. So if you’re not getting great writing — and honestly, you’re not — ask to have lunch with the screenwriter. I’ve seen you on interviews. You’re charming.
Before Allan Loeb, screenwriter Stephen Shiff was the first writer on Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps which opened #1 this weekend. Now he’s left CAA for ICM. After writing for The New Yorker and reviewing films for NPR, Schiff started his screenwriting career by adapting Lolita and went on to write True Crime and Leatherheads, among others. Schiff is managed by Sara Bottfeld and Jess Rosenthal at Industry Entertainment.
EXCLUSIVE: The writer/director Wachowski siblings have begun to invite actors to meet on their new film Cobalt Neural 9 about a taboo gay romance between an American and Iraqi soldier. But agents are telling me it has become yet another “top secret” project they and their actors can’t read. That means they can’t advise their clients whether to be in the pic sure to be controversial because of its “Hard R” storyline. But I’ve learned there is an increasing Hollywood obsession with keeping scripts under wraps right now because of the ease with which these copyrighted documents get published on the Internet. So much so that this is changing the way actors audition for hot button or fanboy friendly projects. More and more, reps don’t get to read full scripts. In some cases, on films like Spider-Man or The Avengers, the actors don’t, either. “CN9 is just the latest of a growing list of scripts that are being kept under lock and key,” one frustrated dealmaker tells me. “How do you do your job and advise clients when studios and filmmakers don’t want agents and managers to see scripts? If actors are lucky, they go to an office and read it with somebody watching. This kind of secrecy only used to happen with Woody Allen and maybe Steven Spielberg. But now it is rampant.”
Reps say it has happened recently on such scripts as Universal’s Battleship, the Planet of the Apes prequel Rise of the Apes, Thor, …
EXCLUSIVE: Fox 2000 has optioned the rights to the Lauren Oliver teen novel Before I Fall, with Maria Maggenti set to adapt it. The book brings a Groundhog Day approach to high school. A female student finds herself living what may be her last day on earth over and over, until she gets things right. Jon Shestack will produce and Ginny Pennekamp will co-produce. Maggenti most recently did a rewrite on Monte Carlo, the Fox 2000 co-production with Regency and Walden Media that has Tom Bezucha directing and Selena Gomez starring. APA-repped Maggenti was a staff writer on 90210 and wrote and directed Puccini for Beginners. Book deal was brokered by Kohner Agency and Foundry and Carla Hacken’s steering the project for Fox 2000.
Though the material market is summer sluggish, WME has managed the neat trick of closing in on three script deals this week, with another on the brink.
The spec in play is Ion, a Will Dunn scifi script that has Channing Tatum attached, with Scott Free producing. Fox 2000 (Scott Free’s home studio) has made an offer, but other studios are circling. A man travels to different dimensions in an effort to find his reincarnated love. It would be the first sale for Dunn, a British scribe., who has spent the past half year honing the material with input from Scott Free and Tatum. WME is selling with The Safran Co.
Mandate Pictures is closing in on a deal to acquire Hell to Pay, a script by Vlas and Charley Parlapanides, who wrote the Tarsem-directed Immortals, which Relativity and Universal are shooting right now. The spec is a revenge thriller about a man who returns home from the Air Force stint and becomes the fall guy to settle his father’s gambling debt to the head of a Miami mob. He takes the rap for the mobster’s son. While serving the jail stretch, the man’s father is murdered by the mob boss. He seeks to square things when he is released. WME sold that script with Underground.
Morgan Creek bought Step Dawg, a comic script by Jeff Tetreault about a 30-ish man who returns home to discover that his single mom plans to marry his …
Warner Bros is giving the Glen David Gold novel Carter Beats the Devil another chance to beat death by development hell. The studio has optioned the novel, and set Michael Gilio to write the script. Jon Shestack will produce, and Ginny Brewer and Jeremy Stein will also be involved as producers. The book weaves a tale around the magician Carter the Great, a murderous rival, the mysterious death of President Warren Harding and Philo Farnsworth’s invention of television. The book was a hot property when optioned for high six-figures in 2002 by Paramount for Cruise/Wagner, a time when Tom Cruise was intrigued with playing a magician. It was eclipsed by a different C/W-developed magic book, David Fisher’s The War Magician. Ultimately, nothing happened on either front. As author Michael Connelly discovered when he sued Paramount to get back his Harry Bosch crime novels, books like these often get buried development costs and overhead charges that studio accountants lump on to justify pricey producer overhead deals. Carter Beats the Devil managed to escape that morass, but had little going after AMC tried to turn it into a series and dropped it. Shestack tried to option it when the book first came out, and followed its subsequent manifestations. “I’ve been trying to get Warner Bros to buy it since the day it came out and that it’s finally happening is enough to make me believe in magic,” Shestack said. Gilio has some heat …
WGAE president Michael Winship and WGAW president John Wells announced that members overwhelmingly approved amendments to the Screen and Television Credits Manuals that make it easier for hyphenates to get screen credit. On the movie side, 85.7% of membership (1237 yes votes, 197 no votes) approved a change where writers who are also on the project in directing or producing capacities and subsequently get involved in rewriting, need to be judged responsible for a 33% contribution to receive credit on a non-original screenplay. The former standard was 50%. There is potential for good and bad in this one for writers. The upside: as more screenwriters become producers, they won’t be penalized for become entrepreneurial. The challenge: directors who run a script through their typewriter are now more likely to get shared screenwriting credits. There is a lot of residuals money on the line here, particularly on big hits. If more directors take it upon themselves to write, this is a potentially important issue.
A whopping 91.4% of membership approved a proposal that calls for a teleconference between arbitrators on decision where they have reviewed credit appeals but did not come to a unanimous arbitration decision. The identity of the arbitrators is always kept secret, and that would remain so in the teleconference, but it is an opportunity to discuss and perhaps come to a consensus. If no unanimous decision is reached, the majority will win out. A total of 1310 voted …
EXCLUSIVE: In a move that has writers and their reps buzzing, Warner Bros has just put out word that it will start to enforce delivery dates on first screenplay drafts. That means writers who signed contracts had better deliver on time, or risk the wrath of the studio. Deadlines are rarely enforced by studios, under the “better late and great” rationale. Writers function better under deadline, but scribes say procrastination isn’t the reason they fall behind on delivery dates. Low to mid-level writers are double-booking to make ends meet in an age when studios routinely slash writer quotes and offer one-step deals that leave scribes wondering if they’ll be jobless in three months. Some writers saw the Warner Bros move as another example of
EXCLUSIVE: Wife Swap producer RDF USA has signed with WME after more than 4 years without agency representation. The American branch of U.K.’s RDF Media, which was recently acquired by Zodiak Entertainment, is prepping 8-10 new unscripted projects – both RDF-owned British formats and original concepts – which it will take out in the next few weeks with its WME agents. This will mark the first selling season for RDF US since the arrival of ITV Studios executive Natalka Znak as Chief Creative Officer in April. RDF USA’s upcoming series include ABC’s Secret Millionaire and the syndication version of Don’t Forget the Lyrics, both launching in the fall, and scripted dramedy Being Human for SyFy, which is about to go into production. Following the closing of the Zodiak/RDF deal two weeks ago, RDF USA will become more active on the scripted side by mining Zodiac’s scripted catalog. It plans to hire a scripted development executive in the next 6 months. RDF USA was repped by UTA until 2006 when its point agent there, Chris Coelen, became the company’s CEO. Grant Mansfield now runs RDF USA following Coelen’s departure at the end of the year.
Mandate Pictures is banking on the notion that HBO’s East Bound and Down star Danny McBride will make a convincing bully. Mandate has made a deal for Bullies, a comedy based on an original idea by McBride about two brothers who finally get a comeuppance after bullying people their whole lives. Yes Man scribes Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul will write the script. McBride will produce with his Rough House Pictures partners David Gordon Green, Jody Hill and Matt Reilly. Mandate’s Nathan Kahane will be executive producer. McBride most recently wrapped the Universal comedy Your Highness.
EXCLUSIVE: 100 Questions creator Christopher Moynihan has inked a two-script deal with ABC Studios to write and executive produce two comedy projects for the studio. The projects will be co-produced by Tagline Pictures whose sister management company Thruline Entertainment manages Moynihan. Moynihan, who started off as an actor and is still active in front of the camera, is also attached to co-star in the shows for ABC Studios and, like he often does, is expected to pen supporting roles for himself in his scripts under the deal. In addition to creating 100 Questions, which was originally scheduled for a midseason run on NBC but was bumped to summer, Moynihan executive produced the multi-camera comedy and had a recurring role on it. He is additionally repped by Rothman Brecher as a writer and by Domain for acting.
Kwame Kwei-Armah, the BAFTA-nominated TV scriptwriter, has turned to the big screen. Kwei-Armah is writing Black Flash, a biopic of 70s soccer star Laurie Cunningham for production company Fulwell 73. Cunningham was the first black player to represent England at any level. He also dated a white girl, very publicly, much to the disgust of the average 70s football hooligan. Cunningham was the first English player to sign for Spanish soccer superstars Real Madrid, let alone the first black player. He died in a suspect car accident, aged 33, after getting involved with the seamy side of the Costa Del Sol.
This is not the first time Kwei-Armah has written a biopic of a black soccer player. He has already written one BBC TV drama about black footballer Walter Tull, who played for Tottenham Hotspur before the First World War. Kwei-Armah was the first black Briton to have a play stated in the West End, when his award-winning Elmina’s Kitchen transferred to the Garrick Theatre in 2005. Sean Gascoigne represents him at United Agents.
Fulwell 73, meanwhile, is in post on its feature documentary The Ballad of a Green Beret. The docu follows Lt Col Bo Gritz, the most highly-decorated Green Beret during the Vietnam War, who later organised rescue raids on kidnapped American POWs, before becoming a controversial conspiracy theorist. Producer Leo Pearlman tells me that Gritz served as the model for both Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo and Marlon Brando’s paranoid …
EXCLUSIVE: CMT is getting another familiar name from its roster of unscripted series hosts to headline one of its first four scripted pilot presentations. Tom Arnold has been tapped to star in the untitled David Litt multi-camera comedy, a multi-generational show about a man (Arnold) seeking the empty nest and his family who is unwilling to let him have it. Arnold’s character Joe Herman, the owner of a hardware store, is described as “salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, good-hearted, eager-to-please, optimistic, but sometimes overwhelmed by the chaos around him.” Litt wrote the script and is executive producing with Gene Stein and Nina Wass. The project also is referred to as Regular Joe, which also was the name of a short-lived 2003 ABC series by Litt, which he executive produced with Stein and Wass. Regular Joe had a very similar set-up to the CMT project, with the central character, hardware store owner Joe Binder, played by Daniel Stern.
As part of its push in the scripted area, CMT ordered four comedy pilot presentations in April. One of them, Working Class, stars actress/comedian Melissa Peterman, host of CMT’s flagship series, The Singing Bee. Comedy veteran Arnold recently hosted CMT’s unscripted series My Big Redneck Wedding. He also recently did an arc on the dark FX drama Sons Of Anarchy.
EXCLUSIVE: The billion dollar worldwide gross of Alice in Wonderland has turned public domain fairy tales into the hottest segment of an otherwise sluggish script marketplace. In the latest deal, Relativity Media has made a preemptive acquisition of The Brothers Grimm: Snow White, an edgy 3D re-imagining of the German folk tale written by Melisa Wallack. Wallack’s script work includes The Dallas Buyer’s Club, and she wrote and directed the 2007 Aaron Eckhart-starrer Bill.
The deal has aggressive progress to production stipulations in the preemptive deal and I’m told the writer will make low seven-figures if the project gets made. ICM repped the writer. The Brothers Grimm: Snow White will be produced by Bernie Goldmann (who produced Meet Bill), Ryan Kavanaugh and Brett Ratner, with Tucker Tooley exec producing and Rat Entertainment exec John Cheng also involved in a producing capacity. Ratner previously got Kavanaugh to acquire the Sundance Film Festival documentary Catfish, and most recently Skyline, the scifi alien invasion thriller directed by Greg and Colin Strause which sold at Cannes.
Deal follows an upfront seven-figure Disney pitch deal for Devil Wears Prada scribe Aline Brosh McKenna to script a re-imagining of Cinderella. Disney also is moving quickly on The Great and Powerful Oz, with Adam Shankman and Timur Bekmambetov circling. Sam Mendes just dropped out of consideration, but there is rumor that Guillermo del Toro might meet on the project now that he’s free of The Hobbit. Warner Bros and New Line each have version of …
He’s the country’s top-rated talk radio host, beacon of conservatives, a lightning rod for controversy. Is Rush Limbaugh movie material?
Writer/producer James Sclafani thinks so, and has written a feature film about Limbaugh’s life that is in the process of being packaged and shopped for financing. Sclafani, who recently sold his script Counter Kid to Bill Murray’s Devoted Pictures, optioned The Rush Limbaugh Story: Talent on Loan from God, an unauthorized biography by longtime Gotham-based journalist Paul Colford, who currently heads media relations for the AP. The book served as the basis for the script.
Sclafani said the script he’s written is a close cousin to the Oliver Stone-directed George W. Bush feature W, in that he tries to get beneath the surface politics and controversies and down to the ambition and demons that drove Limbaugh’s success. The film will include contradictions that have gone against his radio diatribes, from the dubious 4-F draft status during Vietnam (unearthed in Colford’s book) to a get-tough stance against drug abusers that was contradicted by the revelation that he himself was addicted to prescription painkillers and got them illegally.
“This is Citizen Kane meets Private Parts, where you have a man who always had trouble relating to people in the outside world, but does it effortlessly in the booth,” said Sclafani, adding that Limbaugh is the proverbial fat kid, ignored in high school, and determined to prove everyone they were wrong about him. “There’s this anecdote about …