EXCLUSIVE: Writer Jay Reiss has signed with WME for representation. Reiss, who had been at CAA, co-wrote the award-winning Broadway musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the dark Julian Farino-directed comedy The Oranges. His movie scripts certainly seem to draw stars. He most recently completed The Complete History Of My Sexual Failures for Universal, a comedy to star former Saturday Night Live (boy is he missed) castmember Jason Sudeikis. Reiss is currently writing Family Therapy at Universal for Jason Bateman, Crazy You at New Line for Will Ferrell, and The League Of Extraordinary Princesses at Fox Animation. The writer continues to be repped by Mosaic and Bloom Hergott.
EXCLUSIVE: Director Joe Johnston has signed with WME for representation. Johnston had been in play since agents Martin Spencer and Adam Kanter left Resolution to go to Paradigm. He had been with CAA with Kanter for a long time, before the agent made the move to Resolution and Johnston went with him. This is a big get for WME. Johnston’s hits include October Sky, Captain America: The First Avenger, Jurassic Park III, Jumanji and Honey I Shrunk The Kids. He is currently developing the high-concept sci-fi thriller Extinction by Spenser Cohen with Mandeville and Good Universe. His next film, Not Safe For Work, is set at Universal. Johnston continues to be lawyered by Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown.
Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis has signed with WME’s Ari Emanuel. The writer-director-producer had been without an agent since leaving CAA about a year ago after a 30-year affiliation. The filmmaker is readying an experiential 3D film To Walk the Clouds with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing Phillipe Petit, the French aerialist who crossed between the Twin Towers on a wire in 1974. The project, based on Petit’s memoirs To Reach The Clouds is being produced by Zemeckis with his ImageMovers Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey and TriStar’s Tom Rothman. Zemeckis is known for pushing the envelope, trying new and different special effects techniques — whether it be the groundbreaking live-action/animated Who Framed Roger Rabbit or the memorable effects in Death Becomes Her or the animated experiment of The Polar Express. Zemeckis directed Forrest Gump, which won six Academy Awards in 1994 including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for star Tom Hanks, who he later directed in Cast Away. Other well-known credits include the thriller What Lies Beneath, Romancing The Stone and the Back To The Future franchise. He is also repped by law firm Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown.
EXCLUSIVE: WME has signed Michael Kenneth Williams, better known as Chalky White if you have HBO and are as addicted to Terence Winter’s Boardwalk Empire as I am. Williams, who first made his mark on HBO’s The Wire playing Omar, the elusive man who robbed crack dealers, is currently starring opposite Mark Wahlberg in the Rupert Wyatt-directed remake of The Gambler at Paramount Pictures. He appeared in the Robocop remake as well as Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave and most recently wrapped Inherent Vice for Paul Thomas Anderson. Williams returns for the fifth and final season of Boardwalk Empire this fall. He had been repped at ICM Partners.
Williams continues to be managed by Matt Goldman and Sam Maydew at Silver Lining Entertainment. The other thing to know about Williams is that while Quentin Tarantino chose Jamie Foxx to play the title role in Django Unchained because Jamie’s skill on horseback made him the cowboy Tarantino was looking for, Quentin told me he loved Williams, who presented him with a hard decision.
EXCLUSIVE: Stuart Manashil has just joined WME as a literary agent in the Motion Picture Department. Manashil spent the last 6 1/2 years at CAA and before that spent six years at UTA. Now, the question is which of the clients Manashil worked with will make the move with him. WME did very well when it hired Dan Aloni after he left CAA and also when Warren Zavala made the move. Both took nearly all of their clients.
The clients Manashil worked with includes Oliver Stone, Ed Zwick, Tommy Lee Jones, Larry Kasdan, Olivier Assayas, Alejandro Amenabar, Juan Campanella, Fede Alvarez, Ariel Vromen, Brad Furman, Jose Padilha, Max Winkler, Alex Graves, and Adam Wingard. He also works with Matt Aldrich, Skip Woods, Matteo Garrone, Eugenio Derbez, and James Patterson and producers Art Linson, Irwin Winkler, Fernando Bovaira and Steven Schneider. A number of clients are expected to go with Manashil, but we’ll see how that plays out. A Fulbright Scholar, Manashil graduated summa cum laude from UCLA with a degree in philosophy and comparative literature, and holds a master’s degree in international relations.
The legal standoff between director Lynne Ramsay and the producers of Jane Got A Gun has ended in a draw, almost a year after the helmer abruptly left the pic on the first day of production. “Jane Got a Gun Production LLC and Lynne Ramsay announce the pending civil action and all other disputes between the parties associated with Jane Got a Gun Motion Picture have been resolved privately and to their mutual satisfaction,” the producers of the indie Western and Ramsay said today. While no details of a settlement are known, the plaintiffs last month halted their breach of contract and fraud complaint filed against Ramsay in federal court (read that order here). In the original filing last November, Jane Got A Gun Production sought an injunction to force Ramsay’s agency WME to hand back $360,000 it claimed was being held in escrow. They also asked for more than $500,000 in damages to be determined at trial for Ramsay’s conduct on the film and her quick exit before filming started.
Ramsay abruptly left Jane Got A Gun on March 18, 2013, after supposedly delaying the start of filming twice on the pic produced by and starring Natalie Portman. The producers said WME didn’t return their money despite “multiple requests” and that Ramsay told the agency not to hand over the cash. Soon after the complaint was filed, Ramsay said in a …
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.
EXCLUSIVE: Holliday Grainger has signed with WME for representation. The deal comes as the England native wraps Disney’s Cinderella, in which she plays mean stepsister Anastasia for Kenneth Branagh. Her credits include period pics like Mike Newell’s Great Expectations, Anna Karenina and Bel Ami. She’s next up in Lone Scherfig’s Posh. On the TV side, Grainger starred opposite Emile Hirsch in A&E/Lifetime/History’s Bonnie & Clyde two-part miniseries, a ratings hit when it premiered in December. She also played Lucrezia Borgia on Showtime’s The Borgias which ended its three-season run in June. She continues to be repped by LBI Entertainment and Troika in the UK.
The agency has signed new client Digital Domain 3.0 as the visual effects company continues to bounce back out of a 2012 bankruptcy. Digital Domain’s current iteration was acquired last year by Sun Innovations which appointed Daniel Seah as CEO. WME will advise on continued growth and expansion in visual effects, virtual performance productions like 2012′s Tupac resurrection at Coachella, and commercials. The agency will also advise in the area of film financing following Digital Domain’s test-run with Lionsgate’s Ender’s Game. Digital Domain took a co-producer credit and provided cash and VFX for the $110M sci-fier, in which it was an equity stakeholder. Digital Domain 3.0 is currently working on Disney’s Maleficent and is Oscar-nominated for Marvel’s Iron Man 3.
EXCLUSIVE: Rachel McAdams has signed with WME. The actress comes into the agency fold after starring most recently in the untitled Cameron Crowe film with Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper and Bill Murray, and after starring in the Anton Corbjin-directed A Most Wanted Man, the adaptation of the John Le Carre novel that stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Daniel Bruhl and Willem Dafoe. McAdams, who had been without an agent since leaving UTA last April, continues to be managed by Shelley Browning at Magnolia.
EXCLUSIVE: WME has signed Kenneth Lonergan, the screenwriter, director and playwright who was Oscar nominated for You Can Count On Me. Lonergan, who had been with CAA, just took meetings and WME brought him into the agency fold. Lonergan made his first foray into TV with a miniseries adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel Howards End for BBC. His other credits include co-writing Gangs Of New York, which also got him an Oscar nomination. He continues to be lawyered by Jackoway Tyerman.
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 was co-head of Paradigm’s Nashville office, will oversee WME’s Christian music unit.
NBC News’ Natalie Morales-Rhodes and CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield have signed with WME. Both come from N.S. Bienstock. The signings happened last week amidst rumors that changes were afoot for the New York-based agency founded by Richard Leibner and Carole Cooper, which specializes in representing TV news personalities. Today, UTA announced the acquisition of N.S. Bienstock whose clients include Bill O’Reilly, Anderson Cooper, Robin Roberts and Megyn Kelly. Morales-Rhodes is the Today show news anchor, co-hosts the third hour of Today and appears on other NBC News programs including Dateline and Nightly News. Whitfield hosts the weekend daytime edition of CNN Newsroom. The two join WME’s news personality roster that includes Lara Spencer, Al Roker, Scott Pelley, Lawrence O’Donnell, Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzeziniski, and Willie Geist.
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: WME has signed rising helmer Gary Shore and his ArtCastle label. Shore directed the upcoming Universal Pictures film Dracula Untold. With producer Jonathan Loughran (The F Word), Shore operates ArtCastle from Los Angeles and Dublin. The filmmaker first got notice here after Loughran circulated his trailer Cup Of Tears, going viral with it. That led to a bidding battle and a deal with Working Title to develop a feature version, which in turn led to a three-picture deal with Universal for ArtCastle that started Dracula Untold. The bloodsucker stars Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper and Sarah Gadon and will be released in October. The company’s goal is to develop film and TV for Shore to direct and produce, as they continue to be a catalyst in financing and producing films that will shoot in Ireland.
Among the projects ArtCastle is percolating: 38, an action thriller scripted by In America‘s Naomi Sheridan; The Ranger, a revenge thriller set during the Irish famine that will star Brendan Gleeson and be directed by PJ Dillon; the Pierce Brosnan-starrer Last Man Out, scripted by TV host/writer/director Craig Ferguson & Ted Mulkerin; and the period epic Hound Of Erin, based on the Irish mythological heroic figure Cú Chulainn.
Shore continues to be represented by Anonymous Content for management in L.A. and 42 in the UK.
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.