Some Hollywood players were having a good time and a few fine stogies last night in Beverly Hills. UTA’s Charlie Ferraro and DreamWorks’ Mark Sourian were among a gang out at the Grand Havana Room on Thursday. Also spotted hanging out with Ferraro and Sourian at the members only club on Canon Drive were Summit Senior VP of Production Geoff Shaevitz, producers Andrew Lazar, Chris Fenton and Beau Flynn, ICM’s Emile Gladstone, and Mayhem Pictures’ Mark Ciardi and Gordon Grey. Though they undoubtedly talk some shop, I’m told this is no smoky star chamber. The gathering is just a semi-regular get-together among friends over cigars, with Ferraro as the ringleader. American Gangster producer Jim Whitaker, Disruption’s Cale Boyter, UTA’s Steve Rabineau, Battleship producer Scott Stuber, Steve Jobs biopic producer Guymon Casady, actor Keith Ewell and Transformers executive producer Mark Vahradian were also there last night too. Though they were nowhere to be seen last night, Disney’s Sean Bailey and Twilight Saga producer Marty Bowen have joined the gathering in the past I’ve heard.
Under the guidance of President & Founder Robert Redford and in close collaboration with Executive Director Keri Putnam, the 23-person Board is responsible for the governance of Sundance Institute and works to actively advance creative and financial support for artists developing original stories for the screen and stage. Wally Weisman continues as Chairman of the Board.
UPDATE: This Disney deal for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book keeps getting more interesting. I’ve learned that Henry Selick, who helmed Gaiman’s Coraline, is now attached to direct The Graveyard Book at Disney. Selick, best known for Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, is already working for Disney-based Pixar on a top secret film. But he’ll do this one after. Selick is repped by The Gotham Group. They are looking for a screenwriter now.
EARLIER EXCLUSIVE, 2:54 PM: Disney just made a high six-figure deal for The Graveyard Book, the bestselling children’s title by Neil Gaiman. The book, which won the Newbery Medal among other awards, is a riff on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Instead of a boy raised by wolves in the jungle, Gaiman tells the story of the surviving child of a murdered family raised by ghosts in a graveyard. Gaiman’s works include Coraline, The Sandman and American Gods.
The book attracted attention at every studio upon release, and it was optioned for a large fee by UK Effects House Framestore, along with Wayfare’s Ben Browning. They had Neil Jordan attached to direct, but never got it off the ground, even though they kept renewing the option. Disney production chief Sean Bailey stepped in, and won the title in a competitive bidding situation with other …
EXCLUSIVE UPDATE: I’m hearing that Disney has set The Lone Ranger to start production February 6, 2012. That re-establishes one of the most intriguing examples of a star-driven film that was unplugged because of high budget and put back together in a way that gives the studio a chance to recoup its costs. Though The Lone Ranger has arguably the world’s most bankable movie star in Johnny Depp, it also is a Western, which (as evidenced by the lackluster performance of Cowboys & Aliens), doesn’t as a genre do strong business overseas. I expect this to be formalized by tomorrow.
EARLIER EXCLUSIVE, October 11, 4:38 PM: Well, it took a week longer than I thought it would, but Disney has finally reached a meeting of the minds on The Lone Ranger with director Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The studio is expected to formalize a new start date imminently and announce it is moving forward and putting Depp back in the saddle as Tonto, with Armie Hammer as the title character. It looked like the studio was going to announce last week when the picture brightened for the film, but it will be this week’s business instead. I don’t think Disney was able to salvage its December 21 release date because production won’t start in New Mexico until early next year.
The original plan was to begin shooting this fall. That was until, as Deadline revealed on August 12, the studio shockingly pulled the plug on a project it feared could come in at between $250 million-$275 million. The risk of such a figure on a Western became more glaring after Cowboys & Aliens had just turned in a severely disappointing domestic gross, to be followed by an even worse offshore performance, proving the adage that most Westerns don’t travel well. Cowboys & Aliens will be a costly money-loser, 50% shouldered by DreamWorks and the other half split between Universal and Relativity Media. On Lone Ranger, there has been a lot of behind-the-scenes drama as the three principal players made concessions in their deals, and worked on the script to salvage the spectacle that made the movie worth making in the first place while bringing the budget down to a more manageable figure in the $215 million range.
EXCLUSIVE: Deadline told you a week ago that things were looking up for The Lone Ranger for the first time since we broke the shocking news on Aug. 12 that Disney had pulled the plug over budget. I’m hearing that the studio is likely to have everything resolved by next week, and can start rehiring crew so that the picture will be ready to begin production in January or February. How that late start impacts the Dec. 21, 2012 release date remains to be seen, but Johnny Depp will get to play Tonto (Disney wouldn’t make the movie without him), and Armie Hammer will be back in as the title character. Ruth Wilson, the scene-stealing killer from Idris Elba’s British cop series Luther, is also expected back as the female lead.
Disney has gotten to this point after a painful overhaul of the movie by producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski to bring to $215 million a budget the studio feared could reach $250 or more. Verbinski’s struggle has been to reach that number while retaining enough of the spectacle that made them say yes in the first place. The cutting process has included the reworking of deals for Depp, Verbinski and Bruckheimer, and trimming the production budget and the long shoot. That would enable Depp, Gore and Bruckheimer to re-team after making the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films together. The Lone Ranger is one of several huge-budget films that Disney’s Rich Ross and Sean Bailey are managing. The others include John Carter, the Andrew Stanton-directed adaptation of John Carter of Mars with Friday Night Lights‘ Taylor Kitsch in the lead role, which has a budget around $250 million; and The Great and Powerful Oz, the Sam Raimi-directed James Franco-starrer, which is hovering around $200 million.
Veteran casting director Randi Hiller has been named VP Casting at The Walt Disney Studios. She will report directly to production president Sean Bailey. Disney hasn’t had an in-house casting executive since EVP Marcia Ross left last spring. Hiller’s job is to advise on casting for Disney’s live-action films. She has been in the casting game for over 20 years and most recently was owner of Randi Hiller Casting. Her recent film-casting credits include Warrior, HBO’s Cinema Verite, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.
Disney Announces Two New Pixar Films
Who needs Comic-Con when you can do it yourself?
That must be exactly what Disney is thinking as it continues its massive second annual Disney D23/ Expo, the “ultimate fan event” taking place all weekend long at the Anaheim Convention Center right next to Disneyland (the name refers to 1923, the year Walt Disney started his studio). It’s an offshoot of the official Disney Fan Club and includes a ginormous exhibition center with every imaginable opportunity to buy Disneyana, numerous fan events and celebrity-sighting opps, and then there was today’s centerpiece: a near-three-hour preview of movies in the pipeline from Disney, Pixar and Marvel (which announced a partnership with the company in 2009 that is just now gearing up).
Call it “Mickey Con”. It’s all a bit overwhelming, so no wonder it takes three days just to get through it all. The event continues through the end of Sunday.
After his major presentation of the new Disney slate in the gargantuan arena in front of 4200 seemingly rabid fans (and a few more restrained press members), I caught up with Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross in the Green Room for an exclusive interview in which he talked about the possibilities of a fifth Pirate.s of the Caribbean film as well as his first comments on the demise of Pirates team Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer’s about-to-shoot Western The Lone Ranger, which Deadline’s Mike Fleming first reported had been dropped by Disney due to budgetary concerns on the pricey pic. When I asked Ross if there was anything new to report he said, ”Nothing definitive. There is nothing new. I’m hoping to do it, I’m certainly hoping. I think it’s a compelling story and no one wants to work with Jerry and Johnny more than me, so we’ll see how it works.” And about the possibility of a fifth Pirates? The situation is obviously clouded with the Lone Ranger situation, but again he used the word “hopeful.”
UPDATE: Johnny Depp is in Europe right now, but really wanted to make The Lone Ranger. According to one insider, “Let’s see how it all shakes out on Monday. There’s always a chance that it could go. You never know until you know.” The deeper story behind this production stoppage is about how movies are costing too much, studios are giving major pushback, and today’s backdrop of a crazy economy. Everyone involved is still intent on the project and still in discussions to see what can be done. But the studio’s concern is spending over $200M on a Western, even with Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp and a comedic slant. So clearly Disney took drastic action. Now the studio and filmmakers are trying to figure out the next step, either to shop it elsewhere or put it back together at a later date at a lower budget.
EXCLUSIVE: In a stunning development, Disney has shut down production on The Lone Ranger, the Gore Verbinski-directed period Western that was to star Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the title character. Jerry Bruckheimer is the producer and the script is by Justin Haythe. I’m told this all just happened, and Disney pulled the plug because of the budget. I’ve heard the filmmakers were trying to reduce the film’s cost from $250 million (some even say $275 million) down to $232 million. But it wasn’t the $200 million that Disney wanted to spend. And between Depp, Bruckheimer, and Verbinski, the gross outlay on the film is substantial.
When the plug was pulled, the film was still casting up, with Ruth Wilson, the serial killer from the BBC’s Luther series, set for the female lead. And The Lone Ranger was scheduled to be released Dec. 21, 2012, smack up against The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which opens Dec. 14, and the Brad Pitt-starrer World War Z, which was just slated for Dec. 21. This becomes the second major Western-themed project to bite the dust, after Universal halted a mammoth adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. And is it coincidence that The Lone Ranger halted right after another Western, Cowboys & Aliens, proved a pricey disappointment for DreamWorks and Universal?
Johnny Depp’s Infinitum Nihil Makes Disney Deals For ‘The Night Stalker’ And Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride
EXCLUSIVE: Disney and Johnny Depp’s Infinitum Nihil are teaming up on two new projects: a feature version of the ’70s TV movie The Night Stalker, and a drama about the Midnight Ride made by Paul Revere to warn Colonial militia of the impending British invasion. Depp is the potential star of both films, and he and his Infinitum Nihil partner Christi Dembrowski will produce.
Like many, Dembrowski and Depp had fond memories of the ABC telepic and series The Night Stalker, and they got Disney’s Rich Ross and Sean Bailey sparked on a pitch for Depp to potentially play tabloid reporter Carl Kolchak. Originated by Darren McGavin, Kolchak was the dogged journalist first seen in the 1972 telepic (where he hunted a killer who was draining the blood of beautiful girls on the Las Vegas strip) and later in the ABC series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Kolchak’s investigations always seemed to lead him to the doorstep of vampires, zombies, werewolves and aliens. For its time, it was pretty scary stuff. The studio will go out to writers shortly. David Kennedy will be exec producer.
Dembrowski and Depp set up the Paul Revere film at Disney with Batman Forever scribes Lee and Janet Batchler writing the screenplay. The film will focus on the Boston silversmith and that 24-hour period in which he made the risky “midnight ride” from Charlestown to Lexington, becoming a seminal figure in the American Revolutionary War. Jon Brown and Infinitum Nihil’s Margaret French-Isaac will be executive producers.
It is a coup for Disney’s Ross and Bailey to be back in business with Depp, right after Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides cracked the $1 billion mark in worldwide gross. It’s the third time that the studio has reached the billion-dollar milestone on a film with Depp in the lead role, after Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Alice In Wonderland. Depp next saddles up for the studio with Armie Hammer in the Gore Verbinski-directed The Lone Ranger.
EXCLUSIVE: In its latest attempt to hatch a large-scale film that can play to a family audience, Disney has made a seven-figure deal with screenwriter and Lost exec producer Damon Lindelof to write and produce an original large-scale science fiction feature film. Other than the fact that the project has a working title of 1952, I couldn’t pry plot details out of anybody. I’m not sure if the title connotes a period the film is set in, or if it is a Lost reference. I’ve also heard that this project isn’t just being conceived for movies only, but that it has multiple platform aspirations.
The project came out of a series of meetings that Lindelof had with Disney’s production president Sean Bailey and senior exec Brigham Taylor, and it’s the first film that Lindelof is producing from the ground up. Since ending the run of Lost and serving as one of the show’s architects all the way through, Lindelof has been on fire as a screenwriter. He teamed with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to script the Jon Favreau-directed Cowboys & Aliens. Lindelof came aboard to rewrite Ridley Scott’s 3D Alien prequel and injected enough new ideas into the Prometheus script for Fox and Scott to deem the film an original. Lindelof is right now working with Kurtzman and Orci to pull together a Star Trek sequel that can be ready to begin production later this year or early next. I’ve reported my skepticism that Abrams would ever be able to move from launching Super 8 and jump into a Star Trek sequel that will make its summer 2012 release date, because the scribes need Abrams to give a thumbs up to the 70-page story outline they’ve written, and turn that into a script.
EXCLUSIVE: Disney is negotiating to finance and distribute Chrome and Paint, a gritty Boyz N’ The Hood-style drama that Ice Cube will direct and star in, based on a script he co-wrote with Eva Vives. The film is a drama about the custom car culture of South Central Los Angeles. Cube will produce with his Cube Vision partner Matt Alvarez.
Cube, who directed the 2010 Oakland Raiders documentary Straight Outta L.A. for ESPN, hasn’t directed a narrative feature since 1998′s The Players Club, which he also wrote. In Chrome and Paint, Cube uses the subculture of tricked out Mercedes, BMW and Low Rider cars to frame a drama about the temptation to place materialism above all else. The film has elements of Saturday Night Fever and American Graffiti. Disney’s interest came out of a general meeting with Cube. Disney exec Louanne Brickhouse, herself a car enthusiast, took an interest in the project as did production president Sean Bailey. Universal also showed interest in the film but has a similarly-themed project percolating.
To make it work for Disney, Cube will bring it in as a PG-13, even though he originally co-wrote it as an R-rated feature. The plan is to shoot by the end of summer after Vives does some rewrite while Cube stars in 21 Jump Street (starring with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, with Johnny Depp doing a cameo) for Sony Pictures. Cube, who most recently wrapped the Oren Moverman-directed …
Before it got released on DVD today, Tron: Legacy managed to play in theaters long enough to establish Joseph Kosinski as the highest-grossing first-time director of a live-action film in Hollywood history. The film’s $399 million global gross recently eclipsed the $397.5 million gross that JJ Abrams turned in on 2006′s Mission: Impossible 3.
Now, such a distinction is relative. Tron: Legacy cost between $165 million and $170 million to make and a comparable amount to market. Sam Mendes made his debut on the $15 million American Beauty, which grossed $356 million worldwide in 1999. Jan De Bont’s debut on the $30 million Speed turned in a $350 million worldwide gross in 1994. Ticket prices were lower when American Beauty and Speed were released, and Tron: Legacy had the extra benefit of higher 3D pricing. American Beauty and Speed were extravagantly profitable. Disney will make some money on Tron: Legacy, but they won’t need to back up the Brink’s truck.
But Tron: Legacy’s performance certainly gives the studio reason to think it has poured the foundation for a franchise. Disney has begun work on a sequel, which Kosinski is constructing with original writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Maybe because of Tron: Legacy’s pricey launch and heightened expectations, I had the impression that the film had been a bit underwhelming, despite a $44 million opening weekend. But looks are deceiving. For one …
Tony To has been appointed executive vice president of production at Walt Disney Studios. He will report to president of production Sean Bailey and will oversee all aspects of physical production for the studio’s live action film slate.
“Tony is a gifted producer and director with an incredible wealth of experience working with the best filmmakers in the world,” Bailey said in a statement. “He’s one of the most dedicated and passionate producers I know. His unique point of view and deep working knowledge of the craft and the business are a perfect complement to our motion picture production team.”
To has been a producer of such projects as the HBO miniseries’ From the Earth to the Moon, Band of Brothers and The Pacific, as well as the feature film One False Move and HBO pic Grand Avenue. He has directed episodes of The Pacific, Band of Brothers and House MD. Last year, he created Ensemble Entertainment to generate TV projects.
Said To: “I’m honored and excited to join Sean and his team to support the incredible roster of talent that The Walt Disney Studios attracts. The Studio has an exceptionally strong upcoming slate full of impressive projects. I look forward to the opportunities ahead.”
EXCLUSIVE: Walt Disney Pictures has acquired The Runner, a pitch for a futuristic science fiction film that will be written by Dave Andron as a potential directing vehicle for Marc Forster. Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer is producing with Forster’s Apparatus Entertainment partner Brad Simpson. Andron hatched the NBC reinvention of Knight Rider, and he’s supervising producer of the FX series Justified.
The premise: In the year 2027, Earth’s surface has been rendered uninhabitable due to a devastating attack. A group of survivors living in the Rocky Mountains have discovered a way to send a man back in time. While the volunteer departs under the guise of trying to stop the devastating attack, he has an ulterior motive: to save the love of his life. The concept was hatched by Andron with Blacklight Transmedia. Grazer’s Imagine made a first-look deal with that company, which develops big idea concepts on multiple platforms. In this case, The Runner will be simultaneously developed for TV, video game, graphic novel, and for interactive content for hand held and mobile devices. Disney will be involved in all those other platforms. Blacklight’s Zak Kadison will also produce and his partner Eric Lieb will be executive producer. Imagine’s Erica Huggins is overseeing the project with Disney’s Brigham Taylor and Tonia Davis.
Disney production president Sean Bailey bought the pitch, another original big idea with a cutting-edge filmmaker for the …