With high bid, Universal is last 'Survivor'

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Universal Pictures has emerged victorious in the battle for the film rights to the nonfiction best-seller "Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10."

Peter Berg, who is directing Universal's upcoming Middle East thriller "The Kingdom," will write and direct the adaptation, which did not come cheap. Sources said the studio paid $2 million against $3 million to acquire the rights to the tome as well as the underlying rights.

Akiva Goldsman is producing via his Weed Road banner along with Barry Spikings, one of the Oscar-winning producers of Universal's "The Deer Hunter," and Sarah Aubrey, Berg's producing partner at his Universal-based Film 44 shingle.

Written by Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, "Survivor" tells the true story of how Luttrell led a small team in northern Afghanistan to capture or kill an al-Qaida leader housed in a Taliban stronghold. On foot, they encountered two adult men and a teenage boy, and a debate broke out about whether the SEALs should execute the trio to keep them from alerting the Taliban or let them go.

Luttrell made the decision to spare their lives and free them. An hour later, the SEALs were attacked by the Taliban.

Luttrell, blown off a cliff, was the only one to survive the attack and spent four days hiding out in the mountains evading Taliban assassins. He eventually was taken in by an Afghan tribe, who cared for him and risked everything to protect him when the Taliban arrived on their doorsteps.

Although the book triggered a bidding frenzy, the buildup for the project was slow. Luttrell worked on the book in 2006 while recovering from his injuries, then did a six-month stint in Iraq. It was not published by Little Brown until June, after the author had left the military.

When it first made the Hollywood rounds, the studios passed, the common wisdom being that the subject was too tough to take on and that there already were a growing number of Middle East-set war movies.

Attorney Alan Schwartz, who repped Luttrell, set up a series of high-profile meetings with such producers as Brian Grazer and Anthony Minghella in late July. By then, Luttrell's book had become a surprise best-seller, and producers and execs were clamoring to meet the 6-foot-5-inch Texan.

Although Goldsman tried to bring the project to Warners, the producer proved instrumental in guiding it to Universal. He heard of the book via Spikings, his father-in-law, and introduced Luttrell to Berg, a friend with whom Goldsman is shooting the Will Smith superhero movie "John Hancock." The director and author took to each other since Berg is a fellow Texan with a love for the SEALs, who appear in "Kingdom."

For Luttrell, the most important item on his list was that any adaptation had to respect his fallen comrades, so he wanted to achieve a comfort level with his suitors. According to sources, Schwartz said he did not want an auction scenario but was going to let Luttrell decide where to place the project.

Schwartz, however, left for a weeklong vacation after the meetings, and it was then that the bidding began in earnest.

Sources said the competition got under way when latecomer DreamWorks made a high-priced offer, escalating bids into the seven figures. DreamWorks proposed a team of Michael Bay attached to direct, with Scott Rudin and David Permut producing and Steven Spielberg as executive producer.

Instead, Schwartz opted for the Universal package. The plan is for Berg to write the script once he has wrapped "Hancock" and make it his next directorial outing.

"(Schwartz) is either an innocent dove or a complete genius," one source close to the bidding said.

Berg and Weed Road's Kerry Foster will executive produce.

Berg is repped by Endeavor.
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