It’s a big change for Universal Partnerships & Licensing President Stephanie Sperber: A year after she extended her contract into 2016, the company said today that her turf will expand to include merchandise deals for NBC and Sprout properties. The change, giving her titles such as The Biggest Loser and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, is designed to “bring scale and impact with licensees and retailers to benefit all of our film and TV properties,” Universal Filmed Entertainment Chairman Jeff Shell says. The company credits Sperber for leading licensed merchandise efforts for Universal’s Despicable Me 2 among other things. UP&L is particularly eager to make deals for Sprout. NBCUniversal took full control of the children’s network last year when it bought out partners including PBS. It hopes to make a splash in the licensing world as it introduces original programs and, as the company put it, “expands the reach of its beloved brand icon, Chica.” Other priorities include programs to promote Universal’s planned 2015 tent poles led by Pitch Perfect 2, Fast & Furious 7, Jurassic World and Minions. Hasbro is already on board to handle Jurrasic World toys, and Thinkaway Toys will be global master toy licensee for Minions.
As Universal’s Bourne sequel moves out of its August 2015 slot, the studio’s N.W.A biopic is taking its place in next summer’s schedule. Straight Outta Compton, helmed by F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set It Off, The Italian Job), has locked the lead cast for the origin story of the seminal gangsta rap group that burst out of the streets of Compton, CA, in the mid-1980s to spark a hip-hop revolution with politically charged songs about life in the hood.
Corey Hawkins will play the young future Beats billionaire Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell will play Eazy-E, and O’Shea Jackson Jr will play the young version of his own father, rapper-actor Ice Cube. O.G. N.W.A members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre are producing alongside Matt Alvarez and Tomica Woods-Wright. Will Packer and Gray are exec producing.
Straight Outta Compton will be released August 14, 2015, going toe-to-toe — no maybe — with Relativity’s untitled Zach Galifianakis/Owen Wilson/Kristen Wiig comedy. Jackson Jr. is repped by Ziffren Brittenham, Hawkins is repped by ICM Partners, and Mitchell is repped by Tosha Mills at Talent Connexion LLC.
Justin Lin (Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6) is still directing the fifth installment of Universal’s Bourne franchise, but it won’t be hitting theaters next summer after all. The studio has pushed back the untitled Bourne sequel nearly a year from August 14, 2015 to July 15, 2016. In its place on the schedule Universal today also slated the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton.
So far Uni’s only competition that weekend is another blockbuster five-quel: Fox’s Ice Age 5. Jeremy Renner is set to return as super spy Aaron Cross, with Frank Marshall producing again alongside Jeffrey Weiner and Ben Smith for Captivate Entertainment. Lin is also producing for Perfect Storm Entertainment. He was hired last November to helm the film. Bourne Legacy grossed $276 million worldwide in 2012 and introduced Renner’s new protagonist to the franchise based on Robert Ludlum’s novels.
Universal Lands WW Distribution Rights To Coen Bros Pic ‘Hail, Caesar!’ With George Clooney, Josh Brolin To Star
BREAKING: Universal Pictures has acquired worldwide distribution rights to Hail, Caesar!, Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest original screenplay. The siblings will direct George Clooney and Josh Brolin in the starring roles. The Coens will produce under their Mike Zoss Productions banner alongside Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan for Working Title Films. This will be the eighth collaboration between the Coen Brothers and Working Title.
Clooney starred for the Coens in Intolerable Cruelty, O Brother Where Art Thou? and Burn After Reading, while Brolin starred for them in No Country For Old Men and True Grit. The last film by the Coens, Inside Llewyn Davis, was released by CBS Films.
My colleague Anita Busch was the first to reveal the details of the Coens’ next film. Here is how she described it: it’s about a fixer in Hollywood circa 1950s who works for the studios to protect the stars of the day. Entitled Hail Caesar, the comical yarn centers on a man named Eddie Mannix who sounds a lot like the Fred Otash of his day — the famed 1950s private investigator who worked for Confidential magazine and was the muckraker of the time using wiretaps to spy on movie stars and gather dirt. Otash was a former lifeguard who became a cop, lost his job as a cop …
EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures is remaking iNumber Number, and David DiGilio has been set to script the remake of the Donovan Marsh-directed South African thriller that premiered last fall at Toronto. Universal acquired those rights shortly after the fest. Pic is an action thriller centered on an undercover police detective who crosses over from cop to robber in order to orchestrate a major heist. (Check out the original’s trailer below.) Chris Morgan will produce for his Universal-based Chris Morgan Productions. Aram Tertzakian of XYZ Films is also producing and so is Emile Gladstone. XYZ partners Nate Bolotin and Nick Spicer are exec producers.
DiGilio most recently wrote a TV series adaptation of the Tony Scott-directed Denzel Washington drama Man On Fire for 20th Century Fox TV and New Regency TV, and he sold a pitch based on the Robert Crais novel Suspect to Fox 2000 with Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson producing. For Universal, he scripted a draft of Low G, a film Louis Leterrier will direct and The Mark Gordon Company, 360 Productions and George Nolfi are producing. Paramount and Parkes/MacDonald bought his script Daemon and DreamWorks acquired The Damned with Walter Parkes producing. He also scripted the Disney pic Eight Below and created the TV show Traveler.
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA, June 5, 2014—Universal Pictures today announced that the studio has signed a two-year first-look production agreement with Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s Fake Empire banner. The announcement was made by Co-Presidents of Production Peter Cramer and Jeffrey Kirschenbaum.
Schwartz and Savage are currently writing and will produce the studio’s live-action feature Monster High, based on the hugely successful Mattel franchise of the same name, with producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. Most recently for Universal, they produced Endless Love, alongside Scott Stuber and Pamela Abdy. On the television side, Fake Empire is behind such hits as CW’s Gossip Girl (2007-2013), NBC’s Chuck (2007-2012) and Fox’s The O.C. (2003-2007). They are currently in production on The Astronaut Wives Club, which ABC picked up for a 10-episode straight-to-series order earlier this year and CW’s Hart of Dixie, which was recently renewed for a fourth season.
IMAX, Legendary Entertainment and Universal Pictures are expanding their relationships with a new pact to release up to 15 of the studios’ films in IMAX theaters through 2017. Under the agreement, IMAX will be part of Universal and Legendary’s release strategy for such live-action tentpoles as Dracula Untold (October 2014), Seventh Son (February 2015), Fast & Furious 7 (April 2015), Jurassic World (June 2015), Everest (September 2015), Crimson Peak (October 2015) and Warcraft (March 2016). This is the first multi-picture deal IMAX has made with both studios. It has released recent Universal pics Despicable Me 2, Les Misérables and The Bourne Legacy in the format as well as Legendary’s Godzilla, although that film went through Warner Bros, pre-dating Legendary’s five-year deal with Universal.
EXCLUSIVE: While all eyes have been on who’ll ultimately direct Ant-Man, Universal is getting down to finding a helmer for Snow White And The Huntsman 2. I’m hearing the shortlist consists of Frank Darabont, Gavin O’Connor and Andy Muschietti. Rupert Sanders helmed the first film, which grossed close to $400 million worldwide, a result that almost guarantees a second installment even if the first cost $170 million or so. This is an intriguing group of filmmakers. Darabont, after helming The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, hatched The Walking Dead and helped forge it into cable TV’s top-rated drama before getting fired. He hasn’t helmed a feature since 2007′s The Mist. Then there is O’Connor, who directed the cult favorite film Warrior as well as Miracle and stepped in and saved the Natalie Portman starrer Jane Got A Gun. Then there is Muschietti, the Mama helmer who was tapped by Universal to reboot its The Mummy franchise, before he fell out of that project. Universal and Roth Films are trying to have the Huntsman movie for 2016 — Chris Hemsworth had to say no to the Legendary sci-fi film Brilliance because he’s slotted to reteam with Kristen Stewart and do this sequel after The Avengers 2 — so a decision should be made soon. Stay tuned.
From the report ‘em as we get ‘em file: Universal Pictures has announced release dates for three Blumhouse Productions horror flicks, continuing the fruitful relationship between Uni and the indie horror house through 2016. Blumhouse’s first-look deal with the studio started with microbudgeted high-yield $89M hit The Purge. Mark your calendars as the partners stake their claim with dates for unspecified projects Untitled Blumhouse Horror 1 on September 25, 2015, Untitled Blumhouse Horror 2 on January 8, 2016, and Untitled Blumhouse Horror 3 on October 21, 2016.
EXCLUSIVE: Will Smith has decided to drop out of director Julius Onah’s Brilliance, the Legendary Pictures adaptation of the Marcus Sakey novel that has a script by David Koepp. Universal is releasing the film, which was to begin production this summer. The film’s start has moved a couple of times, and the exit came down to timing. Legendary has been in negotiations with Noomi Rapace to star alongside him. The pic focuses on a world where a rare set of people are born with extraordinary abilities and are called “brilliants.” At the center of the story is a federal agent with great hunting gifts who is drafted to track down a terrorist, another such brilliant who intends to start a civil war. Onah directed The Girl Is In Trouble, and Joe Roth and Palak Patel are producing with Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni. Smith, who recently decided to not reprise his role in the Independence Day sequel at Fox, next will be seen starring with Margot Robbie in the Glenn Ficarra/John Requa-directed grifter tale Focus, which Warner Bros opens February 27.
Coming off of a great run opening Lone Survivor, Non-Stop, Ride Along, and most recently, Neighbors, Universal Pictures has given Josh Goldstine a loftier title and a new, long-term contract. Goldstine was named President of Worldwide Marketing Thursday. He will continue to report to Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley, who expanded her responsibilities over international production and worldwide marketing this past January.
They are announcing this promotion ahead of the weekend opening of Seth MacFarlane‘s comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West, which is expected to open somewhere in the mid-$20Ms. It also comes as Universal just promoted Fabian Casto to Senior VP and extended the contract of VP Talitha Watkins in the multi-cultural division last week. They report to Goldstine.
Say it loud: It’s The Trailer — Part 2. Universal has issued the second look at its biopic starring 42‘s Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul. Get On Up follows James Brown from hardscrabble upbringing to jail to the stage to musical immortality. Octavia Spencer, Nelsan Ellis, Lennie James, Tika Sumpter, Jill Scott and Dan Aykroyd also star in the Tate Taylor-helmed pic that counts Mick Jagger and Brian Grazer among its producers. The show begins August 1:
Universal said today that Luc Besson‘s sci-fi actioner starring Scarlett Johansson will unspool July 25, two weeks earlier than its announced date. Lucy had been set for the action-packed weekend of August 8, where it was pegged against Warner Bros’ tornado flick Into The Storm and Paramount’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, along with Disney’s The 100-Foot Journey. Instead, the EuropaCorp film co-starring Morgan Freeman will bow versus Paramount’s Hercules, Sony’s comedy Sex Tape and Lionsgate/Summit’s musical-drama sequel Step Up All In. Lucy stars Johansson as a woman who is tricked into transporting some very bad stuff that — unbeknownst to her captors — ends up transforming her into a merciless warrior. Vengeance and mayhem ensue.
Universal Pictures today solidified its multicultural marketing team that helped drive such recent hits as Despicable Me 2, Fast & Furious 6 and Ride Along. The studio promoted Fabian Castro to SVP Multicultural Marketing and extended the contract of Talitha Watkins as VP of the division. Castro, who has focused on Latino outreach, will oversee the multicultural marketing unit, which Universal said is expanding and will boost its presence on current and upcoming marketing campaigns to oversee a broader range of ethnic and specialty demographic groups. He helped promote such films as Despicable Me 2 and Mama, which earned 28% and 46% of their respective opening-weekend grosses from Hispanics. Watkins will continue to concentrate on the African-American audience. Her efforts helped fuel such pics as The Best Man Holiday and Ride Along into breakout hits.
Universal and Legendary Pictures today set new flick Untitled 2016 Event Project for release on November 4, 2016. The companies are keeping mum on project details, however. As of now the only competition that weekend on the heels of 2016′s Halloween releases is Fox and DreamWorks’ animated Trolls pic, adapted from the wild-haired line of imp-faced children’s toys. Elsewhere in 2016 Uni’s got Ride Along 2 (January 15), The Untitled Pets Project (February 12), Legendary’s Duncan Jones-helmed Warcraft (March 11), The Mummy (April 22), and the Untitled Illumination Entertainment film (December 21) slated. Legendary’s new deal with Universal started this year after its pact with longtime studio home Warner Bros expired.
Will Packer Productions has sold Me Time, a comedy pitch from Ken Marino & Erica Oyama, to Universal. The plot is being kept under wraps but is described as a female two-hander road comedy a la Planes, Trains And Automobiles. Studio-based Will Packer will produce the project with his head of motion pictures Barbara Dreyfus executive producing. Universal SVP Production Erik Baiers is overseeing. Marino and Oyama are teaming on the features Go The F*** To Sleep at Fox 2000 and Return Of The Jocks at Fox. They are the pair behind the Yahoo/E! parady series Burning Love and are repped by Paradigm & Principato Young. Packer, repped by UTA, has another road-trip-themed pic in the works as part of his first-look deal at Universal: an untitled Girls Trip movie that is set to begin production in the summer. That’s in addition to a sequel to Uni’s box office hit Ride Along with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube returning.
LeBron James, whose Miami Heat trounced the Brooklyn Nets in the opening game of the second round of the NBA playoffs last night, had time to tweet that he has closed a deal to join the cast of Trainwreck. That’s the Universal comedy that Judd Apatow will direct and also just also got Cliff (Method Man) Smith. Script is by the film’s star, rising comedienne Amy Schumer. James joins her, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Vanessa Bayer, Tilda Swinton, John Cena and Mike Birbiglia.
This comes after Universal bought a pic about the formative years of James and his high school teammates that will be scripted by Frank E. Flowers, with Rachel Winter and Terence Winter producing with James and his manager, Maverick Carter. As if that wasn’t enough, James, who just moved from CAA to WME, had been expected to make his feature starring debut opposite Kevin Hart in the Universal/Imagine Entertainment film Ballers.
Universal Pictures has named Chandus T. Jackson, Margaret Rose Lester, Steve Martinez, Ivy Pruss and Saila Reyes as the first class of writers in its inaugural Emerging Writer’s Fellowship. The quintet will join the studio in a year-long paid fellowship in which they’ll be involved in daily production as well as specific writing assignments, reporting to Uni Co-Presidents of Production Peter Cramer and Jeffrey Kirschenbaum. The program originated from EVP of Production Scott Bernstein and the studio’s SVP/CFO of Film Production Arturo Barquet, with the support of Universal’s Diversity Council led by Donna Langley. Also aboard as mentors and guest speakers are producer Will Packer (Ride Along), writer-producer Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious franchise), writer-producer Jeremy Garelick (The Break-Up), writer-producer Cheo Hodari Coker (Notorious) and writer-producer Suzanne de Passe of de Passe Jones Entertainment. Universal’s Emerging Writer’s Fellowship is endorsed by the Writers Guild of America, West. “The Emerging Writers Fellowship is a testament to the commitment of the senior leadership at Universal Pictures to identify, develop and nurture new voices in film,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer for NBCUniversal Craig Robinson. “We’re all very excited about this group of talented young people, and the new perspectives they’ll bring to the company.”
Let’s just say it’s tough to get a handle on how a Seth MacFarlane product will play without a red band look (if only Family Guy were on HBO). So here’s one that dropped today ahead of the Universal-MRC pic that premieres May 30. MacFarlane directs, produces, co-writes and stars in the Western-themed comedy alongside Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman and Neil Patrick Harris: