7 Days of Deals

 

DEAL OF THE WEEK: The Drama Behind McConaughey's New AIDS Movie: Matthew McConaughey's recent weight loss for a role in The Dallas Buyers Club has gotten the actor plenty of attention. But even as he was losing 40 pounds, it was up in the air whether the AIDS drama would happen. The film began shooting Nov. 11, more than 15 years after the project was conceived and weeks after it nearly fell apart on the eve of the shoot. "I pinch myself because it has been so many agonizing years bringing this film to fruition," says producer Robbie Brenner. "But I've learned that with independently financed films, you're not making a movie until the cameras are rolling."

Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack's screenplay about Ron Woodroof, a real-life Texas electrician diagnosed with AIDS who smuggles alternative drugs into the U.S., began generating heat during the 1990s, when AIDS-themed films were au courant thanks to Tom Hanks' Philadelphia. Brenner, a longtime friend of Borten's, came aboard as a producer in 2000 and tried to get her then-boss Harvey Weinstein to make the movie. Weinstein passed, but a year later she received the call from Marc Forster that he wanted to direct, and Brad Pitt was on board to star. The project quickly was set up at Universal. "But it's a tough movie about a tough-to-stomach guy," says Brenner. "He's a racist, a homophobe and kind of a scumbag who contracts HIV." Universal tapped more than a handful of writers, but the project languished. Two years ago, Dallas Buyers was all but dead, with the rights quietly reverting to the writers. Borten then enlisted Brenner to pour her energy back into the project, and the original script made its way to hot young director Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria). Vallee, a Montreal native, was able to attract Canadian financing for the $4.5 million film and thus a leading man in McConaughey (Hilary Swank also became loosely attached as the female lead).

Suddenly, the project was viable. But as the film's fall start date loomed and McConaughey began dropping wieght, the film's Canadian financier couldn't put the funds together. Again, the film was on life support, with McConaughey's availability waning due to another project that kicks off right after the new year. Indie finance guru Cassian Elwes sprang into action, and along with CAA's Laura Lewis, helped secure new financing from Nicolas Chartier (The Hurt Locker), who took foreign rights, and Truth Entertainment, deep-pocketed Texans who made their money in fertilizer.

With a new prognosis, Jennifer Garner was cast in the role once coveted by Swank and Jared Leto agreed to take on the role of a flamboyant cross-dresser with HIV, his first acting job in three years. "You never know how these things will turn out," says Brenner. "Hopefully, this one is like fine wine and worth the wait." -- Tatiana Siegel

Eisner Jumps Back Into Movies

Since he left The Walt Disney Co. in 2005 after 21 years as its top executive, Michael Eisner has invested mostly in new media and digital entertainment. On Nov. 13, however, Eisner, 70, signaled his plan to return to film with a multiyear global distribution deal with Universal Pictures. His privately held Tornante Co., which has partnered with the Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, will produce an unspecified number of films to be distributed by Universal. Eisner did not provide details of his plan, but CNBC reported in May that he was seeking to raise $800 million with help from JP Morgan to produce four or five movies a year and two or three scripted TV series, even investing $20 million of his own money in the venture. -- Alex Ben Block

Warner Music Shake-up Creates New Harmonies

Whe larger-than-life executive Lyor Cohen left Warner Music Group in September, many speculated as to who might fill his big shoes. Now it appears no one will. Instead, the storied music company (home to Green Day, Bruno Mars and more) on Nov. 7 quietly began a substantial restructuring that will reposition its profitable catalog and publishing units under one arm, recorded music in another and a third division for shared services. WMG, which was bought by Russian billionaire Len Blavatnik's Access Industries in May 2011, is ranked third among the major labels with revenue topping $700 million in its most recent quarter. But like its competitors Universal and Sony, it has steady reserves in publishing. That profitable and growing unit always was kept separate from the riskier business of recorded music, where on average only one in 10 new artists sees a quantifiable hit. But in the new WMG order, Warner/Chappell, the company's publishing unit (Tony Bennett, Lady Antebellum), and Rhino Records, its catalog arm (Grateful Dead, The Monkees), now will live under the same umbrella, with Warner/Chappell chairman-CEO Cameron Strang -- a rising star in the industry -- overseeing both. In a memo to staff, WMG CEO Steve Cooper emphasized the synergies of publishing and catalog, particularly when it comes to "exploitation, synch efforts and rights acquisition" that previously positioned the two arms as competitors. Beyond royalties, says an insider, is the idea that, "We're one company and we need to stop thinking in camps." -- Shirley Halperin

FILM

Sean Penn (CAA, Hirsch Wallerstein) will star in action thriller Prone Gunman, to be produced by Silver Pictures' Joel Silver and Andrew Rona.

Will Ferrell (CAA, Mosaic, Jackoway Tyerman) and Liam Neeson (CAA, Arcieri, Stankevich Gochman) will lend voices to Warner Bros.' animated film Lego 3D.

McG (WME, Management 360, Sloane Offer) will direct Radar Pictures and 20th Century Fox's film based on the Magic Castle, the famed private club in Hollywood.

Mark Wahlberg (WME, Leverage, Sloane Offer) will star in Transformers 4 for director Michael Bay.

Toy Story 3's Michael Arndt (Verve, McKuin Frankel) will write the script for Star Wars: Episode VII, working from his 45-page treatment.

Grey's Anatomy's Loretta Devine (Innovative, Essential) has joined You're Not You, a drama starring Hilary Swank, Emmy Rossum and Josh Duhamel.

Harold & Kumar's Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (CAA, Hansen Jacobson) will direct and produce Cherries, a comedy written by Jim and Brian Kehoe and set up at Good Universe.

Cinedigm has acquired U.S. rights to Precious writer Geoffrey Fletcher's action comedy Violet & Daisy, starring Alexis Bledel, Saoirse Ronan and James Gandolfini.

The Weinstein Co. has acquired U.S. and other rights to Bong Joon-ho's postapocalyptic action thriller Snowpiercer, starring Chris Evans.

TELEVISION

Taylor Hackford (CAA, Ziffren Brittenham) and Supernatural EP Sera Gamble (McKuin Frankel) are developing Navy drama Norfolk at The CW.

Matt Damon (WME, Ziffren Brittenham) will appear in an eight-part Showtime documentary about climate change produced by James Cameron and Jerry Weintraub.

Mila Kunis (CAA, Curtis Talent, Felker Toczek) will executive produce Meridian Hills, a women's-liberation drama, for The CW.

Louis C.K. (APA, 3 Arts, Sloss Law) will return to HBO in 2013 for an hourlong stand-up comedy special.

Wilfred executive producer Randall Einhorn (WME, Odenkirk Provissiero, Bloom Hergott) has inked an overall deal with FX Productions.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter's Benjamin Walker (WME, Inspire) will star in HBO's Cold War drama pilot The Missionary.

The Descendants' Matthew Lillard (Paradigm, Ziffren Brittenham) has joined the cast of FX's drama pilot The Bridge.

Chelsea Lately's Fortune Feimster (Gersh, Nicole Garcia, Ginsburg Daniels) will write and star in workplace comedy Discounted for ABC, with Chelsea Handler executive producing.

Matthew Perry (CAA, Doug Chapin, Surpin Mayersohn) will return to CBS' The Good Wife for one episode.

American Beauty's Mena Suvari (ICM, Alchemy, Jackoway Tyerman) and NYPD Blue's Henry Simmons (APA, Principato Young) will star in the Lifetime TV movie Stalkers.

CNN's Rob Marciano (Ken Lindner) will replace Mark Steines as co-anchor of Entertainment Tonight.

Arrow's Greg Berlanti (WME, Felker Toczek) and The Vampire Diaries' Julie Plec (WME) will adapt U.K. series The Tomorrow People for The CW.

Veronica's Closet's Kathy Najimy (Abrams, Perennial) will join Isaac Mizrahi on the final four-episode season of Showtime's The Big C.

MTV2 is reviving Nick Cannon's improv comedy series Wild 'N Out.

Pretty Little Liars villain Janel Parrish (Rough Diamond) will guest star on CBS' Hawaii Five-0.

NBC has given a full-season order to Chicago Fire. … ABC has given Nashville a full-season pickup and has ordered three more scripts of Malibu Country and Last Man Standing. … The CW has picked up Beauty & the Beast for a full season. … USA Network has renewed Burn Notice for a seventh season. … Syfy has renewed Haven for a fourth season. … Discovery Channel has ordered six episodes of Ghost Town Gold.

BOOKS

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues author Tom Robbins will release a memoir, Tibetan Peach Pie, due out in 2014.

Helen Fielding (CAA) will pen a third Bridget Jones novel to be published next fall, 13 years after Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.

Beautiful Bastard, by Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings (Waxman Leavell Literary), will be published in February by Simon & Schuster. The book started as the Twilight fan fiction story The Office.

Former Today anchor Jane Pauley (WSK) will write Your Life Calling for Simon & Schuster.

FINANCE

Harry Sloan and Jeff Sagansky's Global Eagle has closed a $430 million deal to create the "largest integrated entertainment platform for the global airline industry."

ENDORSEMENTS

M.C. Hammer has been named the official spokesman for the city of Oakland.

LICENSING

Electronic and hip-hop artist M.I.A. (WME) is planning a collaboration with Versace.

Oprah Winfrey (CAA, Ziffren Brittenham) is launching a line of organic foods sourced from her farm in Maui.

REP SHEET

Charlaine Harris, whose best-selling Sookie Stackhouse series is the basis for HBO's True Blood, has signed with APA.

Hiroyuki Sanada, who will be seen in The Railway Man opposite Colin Firth, 47 Ronin opposite Keanu Reeves and The Wolverine, has signed with CAA.

Phil Lott, executive producer of A&E's upcoming Be the Boss, has signed with ICM.

Michael Engler, executive producer and director on Showtime's The Big C, has signed with UTA.

Nina Garcia, fashion director at Marie Claire magazine and permanent judge on Project Runway, has signed with WME.

THE NEXT  BIG THING: Iain De Caestecker

Reps: WME, the U.K.'s Hamilton Hodell, Anonymous. Why He Matters: The British actor, 24, is making the leap from U.K. films and BBC series (The Fades, Young James Herriot) to American TV, playing a tech expert in Joss Whedon's high-profile S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers spinoff pilot at ABC.

THE BIG NUMBER: 173,865

Percent jump in sales of All In: The Education of General David Petraeus on Amazon.com within 24 hours of his Nov. 9 resignation.

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