Sony may bite on Spidey spinoff

Studio developing 'Venom,' seeking new writers

With Heath Ledger's villainous Joker drawing attention and boxoffice dollars, Sony is moving forward with "Venom," a potential "Spider-Man" spinoff based on a bad guy.

The studio is developing the project, based on the gooey nemesis who appeared in "Spider-Man 3" and is hoping the character could serve as an antidote to the aging "Spider-Man" franchise in the way that Fox has used Wolverine to add longevity to its "X-Men" franchise.

But getting any spinoff off the ground, let alone one centered on a villain, can be tricky.

The studio had commissioned a draft of the script from Jacob Estes, a writer of the specialty film "Mean Creek," released several years ago by Paramount Classics. He's also attached to the Plan B drama "The Gifted."

But the studio is considering going in a different direction from Estes' script and is seeking writers for a new draft.

Casting also is no simple matter. Topher Grace played the character in the film, but agents have been eyeing the role for their clients, as Sony is not yet convinced the actor can carry a tentpole picture.

Neither Sony nor Marvel would comment for this story.

In "Spider-Man 3," Venom is essentially a parasite that attaches itself to a host via a sticky substance that then gives the host special powers. The fact that it is a substance rather than a character could give Sony leeway to cast a new actor.

"Venom" came about as part of the licensing deal between Marvel and Sony for the Spider-Man movies, which contained provisions allowing for the use of spinoffs based on other Spider-Man characters.

The project is part of a larger feeding frenzy for superhero projects, scores of which have been signed up in the last few months while movies such as "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight" light up the boxoffice.

Sony is developing a fourth "Spider-Man" film for 2011, but that picture would come out nine years after the original movie debuted, adding to the studio's desire to see new Marvel characters.
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