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DEAL OF THE WEEK: What News Corp. Is Paying Its Lawyers: How much will the ongoing phone- hacking scandal end up costing Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp. in legal fees? According to one Wall Street observer, legal bills will be high enough that the issue, along with other factors, should keep investors from buying the stock. Needham & Co. analyst Laura Martin on Aug. 22 downgraded her rating on the stock of News Corp. from “buy” to “hold,” citing legal costs along with a “witch hunt” by “powerful personal enemies” of the media mogul and the stock’s history of underperforming amid weaker markets. She lowered her financial estimates for the conglomerate’s fiscal year 2012, which ends in June, to reflect “an additional $100 million-$150 million of legal fees,” or at least $274,000 a day, on average. “We expect litigation costs to be a meaningful cost center for News Corp. for the foreseeable future,” Martin wrote in a report, “and we think this expense is not adequately reflected in Wall Street models.” She said she believes legal fees and cost issues related to the hacking scandal are likely to weigh on the company for several years. “These costs will likely build from here,” she tells THR. “These lawsuits tend to take years and years, and there are often appeals.” While Martin cites the legal costs as one of three key factors in her downgrade, Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce says he continues to rate News Corp. shares a “buy” and that “we believe the hacking-related fears are already built into the stock price.” Asked if he has modeled the legal costs, he said it is “tough to say” where these costs could end up, “but I would probably start by assuming around $20 million per quarter,” or $80 million a year, in legal and related charges. Joyce estimates that News Corp., which is being advised by big-ticket law firms including Williams & Connelly in the U.S. and Olswang in the U.K., must pay fees that can reach $750 per hour for top partners. The company also has enlisted the top public relations firm Edelman, which charges its own fees. “It is still a rounding error” for the sector giant, Joyce jokes. “They have almost $13 billion in cash on hand.” — Georg Szalai
Fast Five Director Scores Uni Deal
Justin lin, director of Fast Five, universal’s highest-grossing movie ever ($600 million), is putting down roots at the studio. Lin (CAA, Cinetic) has inked a two-year production pact for his new Barnstorm Pictures and hired Elaine Chin, a former exec at 20th Century Fox and HBO Films, as president of production. In addition to helming Fast & Furious 6, due in 2013, Lin is developing Leading Man, a World War I spy actioner. He’s also attached to direct the next Terminator film and Lone Wolf and Cub, based on the samurai manga. The filmmaker, who broke out with 2002’s Better Luck Tomorrow, credits Universal for taking a chance on him with the third Fast movie. “They gave me my shot,” he says. “I went from a credit card movie at Sundance to them handing me the Fast franchise.” — Borys Kit
Hot Exorcism Scribe
Young screenwriter Damien Chazelle (Gersh, Exile, Hansen Jacobson) has been busy of late: He’s writing the follow-up to the surprise summer 2010 hit The Last Exorcism, which is set to go into production this fall. Chazelle also has sold Grand Piano, a Hitchcockian thriller spec, to producer Adrian Guerra (Buried), with Eugenio Mira (the Spanish romantic thriller Agnosia) attached to direct. Chazelle, 25, turned his Harvard senior thesis — a musical titled Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench — into a feature that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2009. The film, directed by Chazelle, was released in November by Variance Films. His first spec script, The Claim, was acquired by Route One in October after appearing on the Black List, Hollywood’s annual compilation of the best unproduced screenplays. — Daniel Miller
Ben Affleck (WME, Ziffren Brittenham) is in talks to direct, produce and star in Line of Sight, a thriller to be produced by Joel Silver and Andrew Rona for Warner Bros.
Ridley Scott (WME, Ziffren Brittenham) is returning to Blade Runner, his iconic 1982 film, for a new feature for Warner Bros.-based Alcon.
True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard (CAA, Principal) is in talks to join Brit Marling in The East, a thriller Marling wrote with Zat Batmanglij, who will direct. Fox Searchlight will likely distribute.
The Help director Tate Taylor (WME, Wyolah, Lichter Grossman) is in early talks to helm Peace Like a River. DreamWorks would team with Warner Bros. to adapt the 2002 Leif Enger novel about an asthmatic boy and his eccentric family in 1962 Minnesota.
Cody Horn (Paradigm, Untitled) has joined Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike. The cast includes Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer and Channing Tatum, who based the story on his experience as a stripper.
Producers Robert Downey Jr. (CAA, Hansen Jacobson) and Susan Downey will tackle the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during World War II via an 11-year old boy who tried to exonerate the ship’s court-martialed captain. Warner Bros. has bought life rights and set Robert Schenkkan (The Pacific) to write.
Rosemarie DeWitt (ICM, Wishlab, Ziffren Brittenham) will star opposite Ben Stiller in Neighborhood Watch for Fox and producer 21 Laps. Vince Vaughn co-stars in the comedy for director Akiva Schaffer.
The Fighter writers Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (Verve, Gotham, Nelson Davis) will adapt The Finest Hours for Disney and Whitaker Entertainment, based on Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman’s book about a daring Coast Guard rescue.
Bridesmaids co-star Rebel Wilson (WME, Andy Corren) has joined Isla Fisher and Kirsten Dunst in the indie comedy Bachelorette, produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Prods. The Australian comic also will co-star in Pitch Perfect, a Gold Circle comedy set in the realm of college a cappella groups.
Kyle Bornheimer (CAA, Flutie Management, Morris Yorn) has booked roles in Bachelorette and The Big Wedding, a Millennium/Nu Image comedy starring Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton and Katherine Heigl.
Brad Pitt (CAA, Brillstein, Bloom Hergott) and his Plan B banner are adapting Twelve Years a Slave, an 1853 autobiography by a free black man who became enslaved. Steve McQueen (CAA, the U.K.’s Casarotto Ramsay) is directing; Chiwetel Ejiofor (ICM, the U.K.’s Markham Froggatt & Irwin, Hirsch Wallerstein) will star.
Dark Fire, the 20th Television-based shingle of Ryan Reynolds (CAA, Sloane Offer) and Allan Loeb (CAA, Myman Greenspan), has sold its first project to Fox. Guidance, a buddy comedy set in high school, will star Tyler Labine, who will executive produce alongside Reynolds, Loeb, Jonathon Komack Martin, Steve Pearl and Tim Dowling, who will pen the pilot.
Carla Gugino (CAA, Untitled, Sloane Offer) will star in TNT’s telefilm Hide, based on the book by Lisa Gardner.
How I Met Your Mother executive producer Stephen Lloyd (UTA) has inked a two-year overall deal with 20th Television.
Sarah Silverman‘s (CAA, Thruline, Ziffren Brittenham) single-camera comedy based on her life reentering the dating scene has sold to NBC. She will co-write with Dan Sterling and Jon Schroeder. Executive producers include Silverman, Sterling, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Francie Calfo.
TV personality Ross Mathews (CAA, Degenkolb) has signed a deal with E! to develop a talk show and serve as on-air talent.
Steve Harvey (WME, Rushion McDonald) is developing a talk show with Endemol USA that would be distributed by NBCUniversal. A fall 2012 launch is planned.
Fox and UFC have inked a seven-year deal to bring mixed martial arts events to the network and Fight Night and The Ultimate Fighter to FX.
Jennifer Lopez (UTA, Benny Medina, Hirsch Wallerstein) has officially signed to return as a judge for season 11 of Fox’s American Idol.
Adult Swim has renewed Childrens Hospital for a fourth season.
MTV has renewed Awkward for a second season.
Bill Paxton (WME, Bloom Hergott) will star with Kevin Costner in the History miniseries The Hatfields and McCoys.
Discovery Channel has ordered 12 episodes of Carfellas, about an ex-con who sells used cars on Long Island.
Skybound, the company overseen by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, has inked a deal to distribute its comics titles in Asia.
Legendary East, Thomas Tull’s Hong Kong-based film company, has brought in a 50-percent investor, Paul Y. Engineering Group, for $220.5 million. The company plans to produce one or two English-language films a year.
Writer-producer Ahmet Zappa, whose Monsterfoot Productions has a first-look deal at Disney, has signed with ICM. … Teen actor Tye Sheridan, co-star of The Tree of Life and star of the upcoming indie Mud, has signed with WME. … Derek Hough of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars has signed with UTA. … Grammy winner Bobby McFerrin has signed with Paradigm.
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