Tom Hanks' Playtone Productions Announces Neil Gaiman's 'American Gods,' Mattel's 'Major Matt Mason,' Green Day's 'American Idiot' (Exclusive)

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SINGAPORE – Tom Hanks’ Playtone Productions is set to produce an open-ended series, American Gods, for HBO, based on Neil Gaiman’s award-winning novel, while the company’s next project, Major Matt Mason, is in talks with Robert Zemeckis to direct in 3D, Playtone partner Gary Goetzman told The Hollywood Reporter.

The series-in-development, revolving around the question “are you a god if no one believes in you?” is executive produced by Goetzman and Hanks, with Bob Richardson, and Gaiman on board as executive producer and writer. 

Now slated for six seasons, each season will be of 10-12, hour-long episodes with a budget of around $35-40 million per season, targeted to debut on the cable powerhouse in 2013 at the earliest. 

Rich in religious folklore that spanned millennia and featuring deities from Greek and Nordic mythology, and even the Judeo-Christian monotheistic God making an appearance, in the contemporary U.S., American Gods will be effects-heavy to do justice to the awe-inspiring power of the divine beings. “There are some crazy things in there. We’ll probably be doing more effects in there than it’s been done on a television series,” said Goetzman.

But materializing much sooner than the deities on earth series will be Playtone’s next Hanks-starring project, the toy-to-screen Major Matt Mason, in 3D. 

The producers are in talks with frequent Hanks collaborator in Forrest Gump and The Polar Express, Robert Zemeckis, to direct a screenplay written by Hanks and Graham Yost for Universal. 

The live-action family film about space adventure, with a tentative budget of over $100 million, is based on a Mattel action figure. It would be the second 3D production for Playtone, which produced with Imax in 2005 the documentary Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D, co-written, co-produced and narrated by Hanks.

After the gods and the space adventurer comes the idiot. Besides American Gods, Playtone is also developing American Idiot, a screen version of the Broadway musical adapted from Green Day’s eponymous concept album, for 2013 premiere. 

Director Michael Mayer of the stage version will direct the movie, while Billie Joe Armstrong will reprise his Broadway role as St. Jimmy in the movie version. The adaptation is Playtone’s second musical after the blockbuster hit, Mamma Mia!, which grossed over $600 million worldwide. 

Mamma Mia! proved that if the musical is right, obviously it can go into the stratosphere, as far as box office gross. We’re always looking for musicals,” said Goetzman, whose company also owns the films rights of Spring Awakening, which the partners are planning to produce in an independent way. 

“If we can do that, it’d be a genre that’s as respected as any produced by the studios. Maybe there will be three musicals a year, maybe five. I think that’s important otherwise we’d just have this tentpole mentality where if it’s not based on a comic book or cost $200 million, you're stacked in like pillars. We need all these genres to be respected and we need the studios not to be afraid of them,” he said.

“Studios are afraid of adult movies for a couple of years now, but I felt at the end of last year with The King’s Speech and so many films that did well, they might wake up the studios up with the fact that the adult drama can still be a viable picture to make. You can’t just cut down the film business to horror films, tentpole action, and really stupid comedies. You’ve got to do other stuff. As we know, the film business is always in a state of flux anyway, so it’s in their best interest to understand that whatever you think that’s the greatest kind of movie to make, it will change,” adds Goetzman. 

Goetzman and Hanks are in Singapore for the closing night premiere of Larry Crowne at ScreenSingapore. 

The comedy, which Hanks wrote along with Nia Vardalos and starred in with his Charlie Wilson’s War co-star Julia Roberts, is the first feature film Hanks directed since 1996’s That Thing You Do! The film is scheduled for release on July 1, which serves as counter-programming to the superhero blockbuster summer season from Independence Day weekend. 

“I really feel like more people are going to the movies that don’t necessarily want to see a superhero picture, and this gives them a great alternative to go to see two big movies star in a fun romantic comedy, rooted in real issues but still entertaining,’ said Goetzman. 

The issues are indeed real and they certainly seem bleak – Hanks’ store staff character goes to college after he was made redundant; Roberts’ character, who became Hanks’ teacher in college, resorted to drinking, having to face crowds of ignorant and apathetic students – a premise that might seem too close to home in recession bound America. 

“It’s a line that Tom had to ride in writing it that it was a subject that is in America and in many parts of the world right now, but the best way to tell a story sometimes is with humor. There’s so much humor and hope in it, and good feelings about it, he accomplished that in that it’s a story that’s rooted in reality, but still a very fun movie. Sometimes we just have to say, ‘hey, you know what? You’re gonna work it out. It’s not going to go away tomorrow, but stay out there, and be hopeful, buy a scooter!”

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