2ND UPDATE, 12:01 PM PT: After much back and forth Saturday involving Sony, Universal and a last-ditch overture from Warner Bros, Sony finally closed its deal for Winter’s Knight, the Viking-mythology-tinged origin story of St. Nick and Christmas. Sony emerged as front-runner when it agreed to pay $1 million to newbie scribes Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton, for the biggest spec sale of this year so far. That was the easy part. Deals were then made for producers Marc Platt and Lawrence Grey. More challenging was making a deal with the white hot Kon-Tiki helmers Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, but that effort was led by incoming Sony Pictures Production President Michael De Luca. His persuasive pitch was that he plans to bring in the next generation of emerging filmmakers, much the way he did at ’90s New Line with the likes of David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson. That, and a precedent-setting mid-seven-figure salary for the directing team, sealed the deal. If Disney can keep to its schedule and get the next Pirates of the Caribbean to set sail before year’s end, the directors will make that after completing the pilot for the Netflix/Weinstein Company series Marco Polo, and Winter’s Knight will come after. Also intriguing is how this movie will lengthen the movie credit resume of L. Frank Baum, best known for The Wizard Of Oz. The subject matter is his 1902 book The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus. Of course, Baum’s work has fallen into public domain, meaning anyone can pillage it for movie ideas. At the rate Baum is going, with all the Oz incarnations and now this work being turned into big money Hollywood films, he might end up spinning in his grave almost as fast as Shakespeare, long Hollywood’s most heavily exploited public domain wordsmith.
The three agents are leaving Paradigm to launch WME‘s Christian Music Division out of Nashville. Mike Snider, Kevin Huffman and Dan Rauter bring with them clients including Andy Mineo, CeCe Winans, MercyMe, Jeremy Camp, Kari Jobe, Kutless and Lecrae. Snider, who …
EXCLUSIVE: Hot on the heels of getting an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Nebraska, Bob Nelson has signed with WME. Nelson wrote that script a decade ago and waited this long for Alexander Payne to make it. They’ve joked that they were waiting for Will Forte, Bruce Dern and June Squibb to reach the right ages, but the 57-year old Nelson’s sudden trajectory is remarkable. He has long been represented by Todd Hoffman, and he became in play after Hoffman left ICM to become a manager at Storied Media Group and took Nelson with him. Nelson took meetings with all the agencies this week.
While it took a decade for his first script to get made, Nelson is looking to expedite the process considerably for his second film. He has finished a new script, The Confirmation, and intends to direct it. He’s going to reunite with Nebraska producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, who will begin to put the film together shortly.
In Hollywood’s latest “you stole my idea” case, a pair of screenwriters have filed a lawsuit claiming the Zooey Deschanel sitcom was based on their work. Stephanie Counts and Shari Gold claim that Fox’s New Girl and their 2006 pilot Square One contain similarities “so numerous and specific that independent creation was obviously impossible.” They name as defendants New Girl exec producer Peter Chernin, creator Elizabeth Meriwether, director Jake Kasdan, WME and Fox parent company 21st Century Fox.
Weighing in at 90-plus pages, the suit filed Thursday in California’s Central District (read it here) claims a laundry list of “similarities between the shows’ themes, structure, setting, overall story and plot arcs, specific plot devices, interpersonal twists, dialogue, sequence of events, tenor, specific scenes and elements of scenes, character identities, character personalities, character relationships, character interaction, character development, character idiosyncrasies, and character names require the conclusion that defendant Meriwether not only knew of Square One, but copied Square One to create New Girl.” The plaintiffs say their show was based on Counts’ personal experience, when she moved into a three-man bachelor pad after a divorce.
EXCLUSIVE: Longtime WME partner and senior motion picture literary agent Christopher Donnelly is leaving the agency to become a manager at LBI. This transition has been in the works for a few weeks and he will make the move immediately. It is being announced at the WME morning staff meeting as we speak. At LBI, Donnelly will continue to rep clients as manager and help build out the company’s production arm. He joins Rick Yorn. Donnelly has been working with Yorn and WME chief Ari Emanuel on the career of The Wolf Of Wall Street director Martin Scorsese since The Aviator.
Donnelly becomes the second partner on the feature side to exit in recent weeks, after Brian Swardstrom left to become a partner at UTA.
WME is wrapping up its third day of its annual retreat at La Costa Resort & Spa and the roster of speakers the agency has put together is looking more and more each year like a mini-Herb Allen Sun Valley Conference. The mini, however, is major with 450 WME agents gathered to listen to such prominent names as former CIA director and four-star Gen. Michael Hayden who once headed the National Security Administration and returned again this year. He headlines a roster that includes former and current Google and Facebook executives and even more political heavies. Also, one of the highlights, agents say, was Anne Wojciciki, one of the co-founders of 23andMe, a biotech and genomics company which her husband’s company Google invested heavily into (along with Genetech). It produces direct-to-consumer personal genome test kits that can determine inherited traits and genetic risk factors. Another speaker said to have one of the strongest presentations was Regina Dugan, the former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the first first female director to run the intelligence group before leaving for Google. She spoke about ingenuity and how you can be successful if you use the tools presented before you. She has previously done a series of TED talks. “It’s been really quite remarkable this year,” said one agent in attendance. “It like a bunch of really cool TED talks. I have learned so much.”
Each year WME executives Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell gather their agents for three days to listen to talks from some of the most influential people in America. This year’s lineup is said to include Deputy NSA Advisor Thomas Donilon, who stepped down in June 2013 and has worked with the Obama administration in various capacities; and Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer for Facebook and author of the book Lean-In about how to motivate women to take their place in the executive ranks. She is on the board of the Walt Disney Co. and used to work at Google in sales and helped launch Google’s philanthrophic endeavors. She was also the chief of staff for the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Joining them are Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom (who previously worked at Google where he helped implement Gmail and other offerings); Mixed in with this prestigious group of political and tech speakers will be Michael Rapino, CEO of Live Nation, which owns and operates some of the country’s largest amphitheaters and and concert venues such as the House of Blues, Hollywood Palladium, and Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Guests also include WME’s rapper-musician-composer-producer Pharrell Williams and Snoop Dogg.
Prolific multi-camera comedy director James Burrows has signed with WME. The move is a logical step for the Emmy winner following his agent Bob Broder’s departure from ICM Partners in fall 2012 to run the company of another longtime client, Chuck Lorre. Unlike the common representation practice where a client is handled by a team of agents, Burrows and Broder had an old-school relationship, with Broder the only agent Burrows had ever had and the only person in his life representation-wise. Despite his exit from agenting, Broder has remained very involved in Burrows’ career and will continue to play a major advisory role going forward. The WME signing stems from a long-standing relationship Burrows has had with the agency and its predecessor WMA, which has represented the estate of his father, Broadway writer-director Abe Burrows, and has worked with James on various theater projects.
BREAKING: Brian Swardstrom has landed at United Talent Agency as a partner, and he will work out of the New York office. Swardstrom comes to UTA after a four-year stint at WME and before that he was a partner at Endeavor and ran the talent department for 11 years. It has to play out to see which clients he will bring over with him to his new digs, but it looks like Swartstrom is going to bring most of them and it is a solid list of actors and directors and this it certainly bolsters UTA’s list.
That list includes Tilda Swinton, Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall, Homeland‘s Damian Lewis, Edward Norton, Diane Lane, Frances McDormand, Bill Paxton, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Rooney Mara, Claire Danes, Michael Douglas, Patrick Stewart, Richard Gere, Jessica Lange, John Lithgow, David Oyelowo, Jonathan Groff, Jamie Bell, Scott Speedman, Ray Stevenson, Julie Christie, and Tracey Ullman, and filmmakers including Fifty Shades Of Grey helmer Sam Taylor-Johnson, Luca Guadagnino, Ira Sachs and Oren Moverman. I’m told the latter two are staying put at WME. Swardstrom will be joining about 12 other agents in the New York office of UTA. This brings the number of UTA partners to 30.
Swardstrom’s exit played out over the past few weeks at WME, but he and agency leaders Ari Emanuel, Patrick Whitesell and others spent so many years ago it wasn’t really acrimonious. They couldn’t come to financial terms.
On the heels of the agency’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of IMG last week, WME is now bringing on a hefty new CFO. Reporting to co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell former Microsoft CFO Peter Klein is joining the megagency immediately. In his new role, Klein will oversee the financials of both WME and the sports management and talent company once the purchase is formally closed. Big job. Read the release below:
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – December 23, 2013– William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME), one of the world’s leading talent, entertainment and media companies, today announced the appointment of Peter Klein as Chief Financial Officer, effective immediately. In this role, Mr. Klein will oversee the global finance operation across WME, and IMG Worldwide (IMG) upon transaction close, and will report to the co-CEOs of WME, Patrick Whitesell and Ariel Emanuel.
The Hollywood agency and its financial cohort Silver Lake Partners have emerged from a pack of deep-pocketed suitors and are near a deal to acquire talent and management powerhouse IMG Worldwide. Deal figures have been murky during this entire bidding process, but we’re hearing the sale price is around $2 billion. A deal is imminent, we’re told, but no announcement is coming tonight. Other details: IMG, the powerhouse firm that reps athletes and models among several divisions, would function independently under the new structure, but its owners Forstmann Little would have have no equity stake.
If and when this one makes, it will enlarge agency powerhouse WME and put the latest feather in the caps of WME co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell, who have been focused on big-picture growth since their Endeavor merged with William Morris in 2009. Since then they have expanded WME’s reach on several fronts including digital, culminating in May 2012 when WME and Silver Lake launched their strategic digital partnership, with the private equity firm acquiring a 31% non-controlling stake in the agency.