The Business: Signed & Sealed

Issue 54 - 7 Days of Deals: Hilary Swank
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Hilary Swank

7 days of deals?: Ka-ching! Who’s inking on the dotted line this week

Assembling the cast of any studio film requires managing egos, money and scheduling. But how about making 23 deals with prominent actors for New Year’s Eve, director Garry Marshall’s follow-up to February’s hit ensemble romantic comedy Valentine’s Day? That’s the task for New Line, which is negotiating with countless agents, managers and attorneys to lock in a cast before a planned shoot in New York during the Christmas holidays. So far, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank and Ashton Kutcher have entered talks. Another half-dozen actors have received offers, though “the list of who we’re out to changes daily,” a dealmaker says. Scheduling might be the toughest hurdle. A benefit of doing an ensemble piece is that an actor can pop in for as little as a few days. But when one A-lister expresses interest, finding an available co-star of the opposite sex and equal stature often is difficult. “It’s very labor-intensive for studio lawyers and the producers,” an insider says. Stars are paid decent money, but nobody is getting his or her quote. On Valentine’s, for instance, Kutcher made a couple million dollars for his extended role, while Taylor Swift, for her feature debut, received $250,000-$500,000 for less than a week of work. Still, none of the actors has to carry the movie, so if it fails, fallout is minimal. And if it scores — the poorly reviewed Valentine’s grossed $213 million worldwide — the exposure helps raise everyone’s profile. And as with Valentine’s, Marshall, long one of the industry's most well-liked figures, is playing a hands-on role in lining up the cast, nudging his favorites to close their deals. 

The MGM bankruptcy has touched off a game of real estate musical chairs. The Lion recently struck a deal with JMB Realty, landlord of its namesake building in Century City, to vacate three of its 10 floors. Now companies are jockeying to lease the offices at 10250 Constellation Blvd. Investment bank Houlihan Lokey is said to be actively negotiating for the space, which could total as much as 75,000 square feet. Also, Spyglass Entertainment, which leases 14,500 square feet at a Westwood high-rise, likely will consolidate its space into the MGM offices now that co-toppers Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum are slated to become co-CEOs of MGM. What’s more, ICM, which subleases about 100,000 square feet from MGM, could convert its deal into a direct lease with JMB. A source said the agency expects to stay at the 35-story tower. Elsewhere, WME begins arbitration this week with the developer of a Beverly Drive building the agency was expected to occupy. WME has backed out of an agreement to occupy the offices, and rival UTA is said to be interested.

Elizabeth Banks has nabbed the coveted female lead in Welcome to People, the DreamWorks drama written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jody Lambert. Banks (UTA, Untitled Entertainment, Ziffren Brittenham) will play the alcoholic sister of a businessman who returns home after his estranged father’s death. Chris Pine will co-star in Kurtzman’s directorial debut.

The Swedish directing team Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein are set to helm Underworld 4 for Screen Gems and Lakeshore Entertainment. Marlind and Stein (Zero Gravity Management) recently made their English-language debut with the U.K. thriller Shelter. Len Wiseman and Lakeshore’s Tom Rosenberg and Gary Lucchesi are producing the new Underworld. Kate Beckinsale is set to star.
Patrick Fugit is reuniting with Almost Famous director Cameron Crowe for the Fox drama We Bought a Zoo. Fugit (Gersh) joins stars Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson in the adaptation of a memoir by Benjamin Mee, who used his life savings to buy a dilapidated zoo. Elle Fanning (Osbrink Talent Agency, One Talent, Hansen Jacobson) also has joined the cast.

Luis Guzman has joined the cast of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, New Line’s sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D. Guzman (Gersh) will play Vanessa Hudgens’ father in the Brad Peyton film, which co-stars Josh Hutcherson but will not feature Brendan Fraser, star of 2008’s Journey.

Disney is in negotiations to pick up Tiki, a spec script from Ahmet Zappa and Michael Wilson that is set in the world of Polynesian mythology. Zappa (CAA, Anonymous, Bloom Hergott) and his Monsterfoot Prods. are producing with Scott Sanders Prods. Disney denies that the project is based on the Enchanted Tiki Room attraction at Disneyland.

J Blakeson, who wrote and directed last year’s thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed, is in negotiations to direct Hell and Gone at Warner Bros. Blakeson (CAA, David Higham Associates, Bloom Hergott) will work from a script by Christopher Nolan’s brother Jonah Nolan, a Titanic-like love story set around the Great Chicago Fire. Donald De Line and Ed McDonnell are producing.

Chad Michael Murray has joined Abigail Spencer, Katee Sackhoff and Emily Alyn Lind in The Haunting in Georgia, Gold Circle Films’ latest entry in its Haunting series. Murray (WME, Brillstein Entertainment, Felker Toczek) will shoot in Baton Rouge, La., this month with Tom Elkins directing.

Tim Herlihy (WME, Brillstein Entertainment Partners, Morris Yorn) has been tapped to write Pixels, the adaptation of a popular Internet short, by Columbia Pictures and Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison.

Adelaide Clemens (UTA, Australia’s RGM Artist Group, manager Ashley Josephson) and Wizards of Waverly Place actor Gregg Sulkin (Gersh, D2 Management) are starring in Camilla Dickinson, an adaptation of the 1951 book by award-winning young-adult author Madeleine L’Engle.

Battlestar Galactica showrunner Ron Moore had a big week. Moore (CAA, Hansen Jacobson) sold The McCulloch, an ambitious action-adventure series from Sony Pictures Television, to NBC. He and former CSI executive producer Naren Shankar also were tapped by CBS to revive 1960s action-adventure series The Wild Wild West.

CBS is developing a sitcom about the life of ESPN Radio talk-show host Colin Cowherd. The script sold to CBS TV Studios as a multi-camera comedy with writers Bill Martin and Mike Schiff (Grounded for Life) attached, as well as executive producers Eric and Kim Tannenbaum.

CSI showrunner Carol Mendelsohn has sold The Rainmaker, a legal drama, to CBS. CBS TV Studios will produce the project, with Julie Weitz joining Mendelsohn as executive producer. Sharon Hoffman is supervising producer and writer. Jonathan Baruch and John Tomko are co-executive producers.  Mendelsohn (WME, Jackoway Tyerman) recently sold CBS another show based on the suspense novels of Thomas Perry.

Starz has picked up Noir, an action project from Sam Raimi (CAA, Stars Road, Hansen Jacobson) and Rob Tapert based on a Japanese anime TV series. The premium cable network is developing the live-action U.S. remake of a 2001 show about two female assassins working in the criminal underworld.

The Daily Show regular and longtime producer Larry Wilmore has sold a family comedy to NBC. Wilmore (UTA, 3 Arts, Hansen Jacobson) will play the patriarch of an American family who becomes the subject of ?a British documentary.

John Tinker is taking ?over as showrunner ?on Season 3 of TNT’s Hawthorne, the Sony ?TV-produced medical drama starring Jada Pinkett Smith. Tinker (Paradigm, Spry Entertainment) replaces Glen Mazzara, who ran Season 2 of the John Masius-created show.

Disney Channel has greenlighted the live-action comedy Ant Farm. The series introduces China Anne McClain (Abrams Artists Agency, The Brand, Morris Yorn), a 12-year-old who plays a musical prodigy.

Fox has picked up The Simpsons for a 23rd season, ensuring that the iconic animated series will hit its 500th episode.  

AMC has renewed its hit zombie drama The Walking Dead for a 13-episode second season.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Adaptation) has dropped UTA for WME. … Writer-director Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated) also has signed with WME. She had been with ICM for more than a decade. … Filmmakers Max Winkler and Matt Spicer have signed with CAA. Winkler directed and co-wrote and Spicer produced the upcoming Magnolia film Ceremony. They were with UTA. … Jackass 3D star Steve-O has signed with ICM. … British novelist-screenwriter Jay Basu has signed with UTA. Basu is writing Merlin for Working Title and a feature adaptation of the British crime novel Bad Traffic for producer Nick Wechsler. … Filmmaker Jake Paltrow has signed with UTA. He wrote and directed The Good Night, starring sister Gwyneth. … Jersey Shore star Paul “Pauly D” Delvecchio has signed with WME for music representation.