7 Days of Deals
Ka-ching! Who's inking on the dotted line this week.
DEAL OF THE WEEK: How a Wrestling Mogul Became Warners' Man in China: Shane McMahon, who for two decades worked for his father Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment, sometimes found himself in China hustling to license WWE content. So McMahon was intrigued when American Marc Urbach suggested he meet Liu Weicheng, who had scored a joint venture to provide films for China Home Cinema, the pay-cable arm of the country's CCTV-6 network. McMahon, 41, then spent $4 million of his own money to help Urbach's company, China Broadband, buy out Liu and rebrand the partnership You on Demand. By June, with an additional $10 million from U.S. mutual fund Fidelity Investments, You on Demand had formed a partnership with Warner Bros. to get the studio's movies onto China's growing PPV and VOD platforms. If greenlighted by regulators, the deal would be a four-way split (among Warners, You on Demand, CHC and CCTV-6) of money grossed from titles like the Harry Potter series. You on Demand plans to reach 3 million Chinese households by summer's end and is talking to other Hollywood studios. Some analysts say the model could make vast sums of money from the growing number of Chinese able to afford legitimate content, as opposed to illegal DVDs and downloads. Others are skeptical that McMahon, who once wrestled as Shane-o-Mac, can sign cable operators to carry the films, given the reluctance China has shown to foreign participation in the distribution of content. But the country's infamous regulators are ready to work with You on Demand. Says McMahon, "No matter who says yes to our content, it will not go on our platform unless there's a green light." -- Jonathan Landreth
Princess Di Doc Finds Buyers
The controversial documentary alleging a cover-up following the 1997 deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed is getting closer to being seen by the public. Keith Allen's Unlawful Killing, financed by Al-Fayed's billionaire father, Mohamed, has secured key distribution deals in several territories, including Russia, Spain and Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg) after screening for buyers and receiving mixed reviews at the Cannes Film Festival in May. There's also active interest in the U.S., according to producers, though no deal has closed. At the heart of Killing is a 2007 inquest and subsequent ruling that Diana and Dodi were killed because of the gross negligence of limousine driver Henri Paul and the paparazzi who chased the couple. But Allen, who covertly observed the inquest proceedings, paints a radically different picture, demonstrating a conspiracy to hide key facts from a complicit British media. Mohamed Al-Fayed, who has long blamed the royal family for the death of his son, decided to finance the project after Allen was turned down by British film companies and broadcasters. Conor Nolan, who works for Al-Fayed's production company, flew to the U.S. in early June to meet with potential buyers. He says he has received a few offers and that the film played well during a Nielsen Media Research screening. "We're determined to have a major North American release, whether in theaters or on television," says Nolan, adding that distributors in Japan, Italy and Australia are also interested. Killing, criticial of the royal family, will not be allowed to air in the U.K. unless 87 cuts are made to comply with the nation's libel laws. -- Pamela McClintock
Warren Beatty (CAA, Greenberg Glusker) has inked with Paramount to write, direct, produce and star in an untitled project based on his original screenplay. The project will mark a return to Paramount for Beatty, who directed 1978's Heaven Can Wait and 1981's Reds for the studio. The film is scheduled to go into production later this year.
Russell Crowe (WME, Bloom Hergott) will play Jor-El in Warner Bros.' Superman: Man of Steel for director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan. Marlon Brando played the role in 1978's Superman.
Akiva Schaffer (UTA, Mosaic, Ziffren Brittenham) is negotiating to direct Neighborhood Watch, a high-concept, long-in-development comedy from Fox and production shingle 21 Laps. Ben Stiller is considering starring in the project and has met with Schaffer.
Fox is in early talks with writer Will Staples (ICM, Brian Lutz, Bloom Hergott) to pick up Myth, a sci-fi action project that would be executive produced by James Cameron and produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Sam Worthington.
Late-night host and comedian Chelsea Handler (CAA, Hansen Jacobson) is in negotiations to join the cast of Fun Size, Paramount's Halloween comedy starring Victoria Justice and being directed by The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz. Handler would play the mother of Justice's character.
Nia Vardalos (Paradigm, Untitled, Del Shaw), who co-wrote Universal's upcoming Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts romantic comedy Larry Crowne, has signed to star in a new American Girl movie. Newcomer Jade Pettyjohn (Showtime's United States of Tara) will play the lead in the film, which is being produced by Debra Martin Chase.
Jason Reitman (WME, Jackoway Tyerman) has been hired for rewrite work on Burt Wonderstone, a New Line magician comedy that has Steve Carell attached to star.
Ian McShane (ICM, Gallant, Nelson Davis) has been cast as the lead dwarf in Snow White and the Huntsman, Universal's retelling of the fairy tale starring Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron.
Michael Chabon (UTA, McKuin Frankel) has been tapped to write Magic Kingdom, Disney's family-adventure project that is being directed by Jon Favreau. The story is set in Disney's flagship Disneyland theme park and might be connected to other parks worldwide. Strike Entertainment is producing.
Relativity Media will take over U.S. distribution of the Marc Forster (CAA, Management 360, Lichter Grossman) drama Machine Gun Preacher from Lionsgate. The film, starring Gerard Butler and Michelle Monaghan, is a biopic of Sam Childers, a drug-dealing biker who found God and became an activist on behalf of child soldiers in Sudan. A fall release is planned.
Paramount has pre-emptively picked up Bastards, a comedy spec from Justin Malen (Verve, H2F, McKuin Frankel) for Montecito to produce. The story revolves around twin brothers who set out to find their real dad.
Warner Bros. has acquired an untitled King Arthur spec script written by Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin (CAA, Sloane Offer), who is attached to direct and produce.
Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions has picked up worldwide rights to Detention, which bills itself as an apocalyptic body-swapping, time-traveling teen romantic comedy. The movie, starring Josh Hutcherson (ICM, Beddingfield Co., Hansen Jacobson), Dane Cook (UTA, Jackoway Tyerman) and Shanley Caswell (APA, Semler, Felker Toczek) and directed by Joseph Kahn (ICM), revolves around a group of students dealing with a slasher/killer as they navigate their last year of high school.
Jason Keller has been hired to pen an adaptation of Justin Cronin's 2010 novel The Passage for Fox 2000. Keller (CAA, Management 360, Bloom Hergott) wrote the screenplay for Machine Gun Preacher, which Relativity Media recently acquired for a fall release. Passage is set 100 years in the future after a government experiment to lengthen the human life span ends up turning people into vampires.
Rescue Me creator/star Denis Leary (WME, Ziffren Brittenham) will develop a comedy pilot for USA based on the U.K.'s Channel 4 series Sirens, about a team of paramedics. Bob Fisher (Traffic Light) will executive produce with Jim Serpico (Rescue Me) and Daybreak Pictures' Hal Vogel and David Aukin. Leary's Apostle will produce with Fox TV Studios and Daybreak.
Glee has added six writers for season three. Allison Adler, Marti Noxon, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Michael Hitchcock, Matt Hodgson and Ross Maxwell will join executive producers Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan in the writers room.
Laura Prepon (Gersh, New Wave, Myman Greenspan) and Naomi Judd (WME, Big Enterprises) will star in a Lifetime TV movie based on Iris Johansen's best-seller The Killing Game.
Nat Geo Wild has picked up four series and renewed Python Hunters and Wild Case Files. New series include World's Weirdest, which scours the Earth for odd animals, and Animal Underworld, a look at people who own and eat exotic animals, hosted by actor, musician and snake lover Henry Rollins.
CBS has ordered Identity Crisis, a game-show pilot that revolves around teams of two who must identify famous people. The network's Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson (WME, Gang Tyre) is close to a deal to host and executive produce the project, which hails from executive producers Courteney Cox (WME, Brillstein) and David Arquette (UTA, Management 360).
CBS has renewed its pact to air the Grammys until 2021.
FX has acquired TV rights to Super 8, the J.J. Abrams-Steven Spielberg teaming that will air in late 2013 or early 2014.
MTV has picked up its feel-good reality series Made for a 12th cycle.
David Bar Katz (Paradigm, Untitled) will co-write and co-executive produce a half-hour comedy pilot script for Showtime titled Sober Coach. The project hails from CBS Television Studios and Apostle.
Dangerbird Records, home to Silversun Pickups and Fitz and the Tantrums, has signed singer-songwriter Ben Lee (Gold Village Entertainment) and singer-producer-songwriter Butch Walker (Crush Management). The artists are prepping separate releases for the fall.
Blair Underwood (ICM, Thruline Entertainment, Felker Toczek) will make his Broadway debut as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, to be directed by Emily Mann. Streetcar, from Front Row Productions, will premiere in the spring at a theater to be announced.
James Caan, best known for his Oscar-nominated performance in The Godfather, has signed with Paradigm. ... Nic Van Zeebroeck and Mike Sopczynski, staff writers on the new J.J. Abrams-produced CBS drama Person of Interest, have signed with ICM. … Ross Mathews, aka "Ross the Intern" on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, has signed with CAA. … Carter MacIntyre, who co-starred on NBC's Undercovers, has signed with UTA. ... Mobile app developer Outfit7, creator of Talking Friends, has signed with WME.