EXCLUSIVE: Longtime Double Feature Films partners Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher are amicably splitting up. They formed their shingle in 2003 after splitting with Danny DeVito and Jersey Films, and they have spent the last 22 years together. Between those two companies, they are the kind of understated producers where you look at their resume and go, wow, they made a lot of good movies. That encompasses everything from Get Shorty to Pulp Fiction, Reality Bites, Garden State, Gattaca, Out Of Sight, Man On The Moon, World Trade Center, Contagion, Erin Brockovich and Django Unchained. Shamberg and Sher continue as partners in their television company which has a first-look deal at AMC. They decided they want to pursue film projects individually, but they will remain partners on they Double Feature projects they have percolating – a list that includes Zach Braff’s crowd-funded indie Wish I Was Here and the Scott Frank-directed adaptation of the Lawrence Block mystery novel A Walk Among The Tombstones, which will star Liam Neeson.
Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s conference coverage.
The Kickstarter model of financing movies was front and center this morning at a Produced By conference panel entitled “The State of Producing — Finding Funding, Lining Up Talent & Securing Screens,” which replaced the scheduled session with Tom Cruise (postponed to next weekend). Before the seats were even warm, producer Stacey Sher (Django Unchained, Erin Brockovich, Pulp Fiction) was quizzed about her groundbreaking Kickstarter effort in April on behalf of Zach Braff that found his project Wish I Was Here meeting its $2 million fundraising goal in a mere four days en route to a 30-day total of $3.1 million from a grand total of 46,520 pledgers). “We were absolutely shocked,” Sher admitted. “We became these people who lived for 30 days under both a microscope and a spotlight. And it was excruciating.” Why “excruciating”? Sher explained that by virtue of being Exhibit A in the new media funding model, the haters were inspired to come out of the woodwork wondering why they deserved this kind of support. But she stressed that the experience has been overwhelmingly encouraging and positive. “The people who backed the film are going through every step of its production with us, with more access to how it’s being put together than some of our interns,” she said. Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin and Josh Gad will join Braff in the film about a thirtysomething actor who is trying to figure out who he is.
2ND UPDATE, FRIDAY AM: The prognosticators who’ve been telling me that Kickstarter is a game-changing enterprise for movies, are proving to be so Kreskin-like, I will next challenge them to bend spoons with their brains (dated reference). Just a couple days into his attempt to raise $2 million to finance his film Wish I Was Here, Braff is already up to $1,766,130 and counting, from 25,245 people who’ve committed cash for a variety of tchotchkes. The game plan was to use Kickstarter funding, and foreign sales, to raise the $5 million needed to make the movie. Braff, producers Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg planned to work practically free, upfront. At this rate, Braff will reach his funding goal by the weekend. And with 28 days to go, they’ll likely wind up with enough dough to fund the whole movie without making pre-sales, and maybe enough to pay participants a little bit. This is startling, that so many people are betting on a filmmaker, and not donating because they just want to see a movie version of a favorite TV show like Veronica Mars.
EXCLUSIVE: AMC, the network behind Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, has signed a two-year first-look deal with film producers Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg‘s Double Feature Films. This marks the first such pact for Sher and Shamberg with a cable network. Under the deal, Double Feature Films will develop and produce scripted projects for AMC. The cable network, which built its brand with classic movies before branching out into original programming, has a successful track record working with feature producers — two of its signature drama series, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, are executive produced by Gale Anne Hurd and Mark Johnson, respectively. “What AMC does so well is to tell great stories with fresh characters and their series truly feel like films,” Sher and Shamberg said. “This gives us the opportunity to take what we are so drawn to from the film side and make our own productions on the TV side.”
EXCLUSIVE: Cross Creek Pictures has stepped up to finance A Walk Among the Tombstones, an adaptation of the Lawrence Block novel that seemed to have been put to rest more than a decade ago. DJ Caruso is in discussions to direct a script by Scott Frank. It is one of two pictures Caruso is considering for his next film. The other is Preacher, the John August-scripted film for Sony Pictures and producer Neal Moritz.
Double Feature partners Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher are producing with Danny DeVito and Cross Creek president Brian Oliver. Shamberg, Sher and DeVito first got Frank to write a script while they were partners in Jersey Films. It had been set at Universal and once had Harrison Ford interested in playing Matthew Scudder, an alcoholic former cop who spends his retirement doing favors for friends, the kind that take him deep into the underbelly of New York City. In A Walk Among the Tombstones, a heroin kingpin’s wife is kidnapped and those kidnappers begin to send her back in pieces. The Scudder character was previously seen in 8 Million Ways To Die.
EXCLUSIVE: Talks are about to get underway for Leonardo DiCaprio to play the role of villainous ranch owner Calvin Candie in Django Unchained, the Sergio Leone-style spaghetti Western that Quentin Tarantino wrote and will direct as his next film. DiCaprio is being courted to play a charming but ruthless proprietor of Candyland, a despicable club and plantation in Mississippi where female slaves are exploited as sex objects and males are pitted against each other in “mandingo” style death matches. Candie is a slave’s worst nightmare and the freed slave Django must cross him in order to reclaim his wife.
Now, deal making discussions are just getting underway, but I’m told there is a much higher likelihood of DiCaprio taking part in the film at this point than Will Smith, who had been reported as lead candidate to play the title role of DJango, a slave who is liberated and taught the tricks of the trade by a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter. That role is expected to be played by Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar playing Hans Landa in Tarantino’s last film, Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction star Samuel L. Jackson is also expected to play the role of Stephen, Candie’s valet who keeps the slaves in line at Candie’s residence. Tarantino turned in his script in late April to The Weinstein Company’s Harvey Weinstein, and Sony Pictures signed on …
Universal Pictures is developing a reality-based action film centered around the recruitment and training of Secret Service agents. The studio has optioned a cover story in the Washington Post Magazine by Laura Blumenfeld, and set Greg Poirier to write the script. Poirier’s work includes The Spy Next Door and National Treasure: Book of Secrets, and he is writing the Ashley Judd-starrer Missing for ABC. Double Feature Films partners Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher will produce. Blumenfeld went through the training program to write her article and it included shooting weapons, hand-to-hand combat, psychological and other training methods. The Secret Service differs from most law-enforcement branches in that applicants don’t need a law enforcement background to apply. That lends an everyman aspect to a film that will follow a group of aspirants who go through the training program to become agents. There hasn’t been a good Secret Service agent movie since In the Line of Fire, which is surprising considering the high stakes.
Foreign For Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’ Goes To Will Smith’s Home Studio Sony (Though Universal Tried Hard)
EXCLUSIVE: Sources tell me that international on Quentin Tarantino’s new Spaghetti Western Django Unchained is going to Sony to co-finance production later this year and distribute sometime in 2012. This after the filmmakers met with every major studio except Warner Bros. Of course, The Weinstein Company is taking domestic. But the surprise is that Universal International didn’t have the inside track since it co-financed and took overseas on Tarantino’s last film, Inglourious Basterds, in a very successful pairing ($201M international for a global cume of $321M). Actually, Universal really wanted Quentin’s latest and tried to really step up. There was a big meeting this past Friday between Universal International and Quentin where the foreign guys went to extraordinary lengths to pull out all the stops. Employees wore T-shirts emblazoned with the languages of all the managing directors of the territories in town. And a bag of handmade scalps was presented to Tarantino — a reference to the ”100 Nazi scalps” from Inglourious Basterds to remind Quentin how well the studio did for that movie last time around. Instead, Django Unchained went to Sony because of its existing relationship with Will Smith, whom Quentin desperately wants to star in the film. “Having Will involved is the key. That’s what the filmmakers want, and they think the best chance of making it happen is at his home studio,” an insider tells me.
UPDATE: Right now, Will is still pondering his role as a slave in the script, which I just read and would be a very risky …
Back when I saw him in late February at Harvey Weinstein’s Oscar night party for The King’s Speech, Quentin Tarantino told me that his script for a Western was just pouring out of him easily, that he’d finished a draft and expected to turn in a final version within two months. As a web leak of the cover page of his new script Django Unchained attests, Tarantino finished that script two days ago, right on schedule. Here’s what I’ve heard: While Tarantino has spoken about doing a variation of the Western genre he called a “Southern,” I’m told he has actually written a spaghetti Western, that stylized and violent brand of films popularized by Sergio Leone and a few other directors in the 1960s. Tarantino will put his stamp on one of his favorite genres same as he did when he took on the war mission movie with Inglourious Basterds.
The project is moving very quickly. Tarantino is reuniting with Pulp Fiction producer Stacey Sher. Sher will produce with Pilar Savone. Weinstein, who distributed Pulp Fiction, will spearhead domestic distribution on Django Unchained through TWC. Universal International has the inside track to co-finance and handle foreign distribution because of the relationship built on 2009′s Inglourious Basterds, which grossed $200 million overseas and $324 million overall. Despite the early look that Universal International will get, Tarantino’s script is also being pursued …
EXCLUSIVE: Leonardo DiCaprio is going to play one of the most prolific serial killers in Chicago history, the 19th Century equivalent of Hannibal Lecter. DiCaprio and his Appian Way partner Jennifer Killoran and Double Features partners Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher have joined forces to acquire screen rights to The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic And Madness At The Fair That Changed America, the 2003 non-fiction book by Erik Larson. DiCaprio will play Dr. HH Holmes, a cunning serial killer believed to have murdered anywhere from 27 to 200 people at a time when the city of Chicago was enthralled with hosting the World’s Fair of 1893. Holmes constructed The World’s Fair Hotel, an inn more lethal than the Bates Motel, especially for young single women. The sociopath used charm and guile to lure guests into what became known as a “murder castle,” a haunt that had a gas chamber, crematorium and a dissecting table where Holmes would murder his victims and strip their skeletons to sell for medical and scientific study.
In a statement, Killoran called the book “truly a one-of-its-kind American story about our nation’s first serial killer. We’re exited to bring it to the big screen.” Said Shamberg and Sher: “This is a big, entertaining thriller in an incredible setting that will appeal to worldwide audience.”
DiCaprio hasn’t played a role like this, but has long been …