Summit takes 'Twilight' tale

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Summit is moving forward with "Countdown," a sci-fi action tale based on a classic "Twilight Zone" episode, and has attached scribe Michael Brandt to direct.

Brandt will make his directorial debut with the futuristic film, which revolves around a group of astronauts who land on a planet only to find a crashed spaceship and corpses that eerily resemble their own. They then must piece together where they are and whether they might in fact already be dead.

Summit production chief Erik Feig said the company chose Brandt to direct because he fits with the outfit's larger interest in supporting new talent.

The episode, titled "Death Ship," was penned by featured "Twilight Zone" scribe Richard Matheson, who based it on his own short story published in a sci-fi magazine a number of years earlier.

Brandt is rewriting the screenplay with his writing partner Derek Haas; it is based on an original screenplay by Stephen Gregg and Scott Burn. Brandt and Haas have collaborated on such movies as "3:10 to Yuma" and "2 Fast 2 Furious," and they wrote the screenplay for the upcoming tentpole "Wanted" from Universal.

"Countdown" originally had been set up in 2005 with Summit and Mandalay Entertainment under Summit's somewhat more limited previous incarnation, with Nick Wechsler producing along with Brandt and Haas.

Although Brandt and Haas had talked to other directors, the project got a kick-start when Summit morphed into a full-on studio and domestic distributor under toppers Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger. Summit has now signed on to finance and distribute the picture worldwide; Wechsler still will produce along with Brandt and Haas.

The movie, which Brandt said could go into production as early as late summer, is expected to cost in the $30 million range in keeping with Summit's midrange mission.

Brandt said he was motivated to consider directing the film by an unlikely force: the writers strike. "I said to myself, 'I can't write, so let me put a directing presentation together,' " he said.

Over the years, various "Twilight Zone" updates have made their way to the big and small screen, most notably with 1983's episodic "Twilight Zone: The Movie," which featured segments directed by Steven Spielberg and John Landis, among others.

Although many of the episodes in the original Rod Serling series were as much metaphysical mysteries as they were actual ones, Brandt said he feels those themes also fit with the conventions of a wide commercial release.

"'Countdown' is fantastic because it wraps the themes of fate and predestination in a movie that is really a giant puzzle (that will also) be fun for the audience to piece together," he said.

But he said that anyone taking on a classic like "The Twilight Zone" needs to be careful to balance the traditional with the modern. "The updates that are successful — not just of this but of any of the great 1950s sci-fi concepts — are those that take the idea and bring a modern sensibility to it," he added.

The project extends Summit's reach into various genres and demographics. The company already is aiming for young viewers with its animated "Fly Me to the Moon"; for teens and twentysomethings with movies like the high school rock-band romance "Will" and the vampire drama "Twilight"; and for an older audience with Rian Johnson's con-man saga "The Brothers Bloom." "Countdown" is its first major sci-fi project.

"Countdown" also will mark a renaissance of sorts for Matheson: The prolific "Twilight Zone" writer also penned the novel on which "I Am Legend" is based.
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