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HomeIndustry SectorFilmHump Day News Update 11/3/21: Damon and Downey Sign onto Nolan's Oppenheimer,...

Hump Day News Update 11/3/21: Damon and Downey Sign onto Nolan’s Oppenheimer, Pratt Voicing Garfield, and Other News


Happy Hump Day!

As the headline states, it was a big week for A-list stars to come out of their pandemic bubble to announce some upcoming plans.

Robert Downey
Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man 3 (Marvel/Disney)

DamonSuburbiconOne of the hottest projects from the past few months has been Christopher Nolan‘s Oppenheimer biopic about the creator of the atom bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, which was picked up by Universal Pictures with Nolan regular, Cillian Murphy, playing the title role, quickly joined by Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer’s wife. Doubting Thomases may have been somewhat worried that Murphy and Blunt wouldn’t be enough star power for what’s likely to be another expensive film from Nolan, but yesterday, it was announced that Nolan has lined up two A-list stars in Matt Damon (who had a small role in Interstellar) and Robert Downey Jr, who has only starred in three or four non-MCU movies since taking on the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man in 2008. Damon will play Lt. General Leslie Groves, who directed “The Manhattan Project,” while Downey will play Lewis Strauss, a “major figure in the development of nuclear weapons,” and two-time chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).  In other words, Damon and Downey will be important supporting roles in the film, which is written by Nolan, adapted from Martin Sherwin and Kai Bird‘s book, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer’

Garfield (Universal Press Syndicate)

Anyone remember when Bill Murphy voiced the popular comic strip and cartoon cat, Garfield? Looks like he’ll be in good company as Chris Pratt will be voicing the popular snarky feline, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The new movie comes from Alcon Entertainment‘s Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson, who bought the rights to creator Jim Davis‘ comic strip character who first debuted in 1978 in 51 newspapers. It currently holds the record as the most widely syndicated comic strip in the world as fans could not get enough of Davis’ lazy lasagna-eating cat. Davis will serve as an exec. producer on the film, as will Bridget McMeel from Amuse and Craig Sost. John Cohen and Steven P. Wegner are producing the film, alongside Kosove and Johnson. DNEG Animation, which worked on the recent 20th Century Studios animated feature Ron’s Gone Wrong, will animate and produce the film. DNEG CEO Namit Malhotra and President Tom Jacomb are also serving as producers. No word on studios or distributors, although Alcon has had a long-standing relationship with Warner Bros. Pictures.

Continuing with our A-lister parade, this time from Deadline,  who reports that Bradley Cooper is launching a new currently-untitled production label, which has already set up a new project at Warner Bros, where Cooper has had a ton of success between Clint Eastwood‘s biopic blockbuster, American Sniper, and the remake of A Star is Born, which he directed and starred in with Lady Gaga. Cooper also produced the 2019 hit, Joker, through a previous deal Cooper had with Warners along with that film’s director, Todd Phillips, although that deal ended in 2019. Cooper has received six Oscar nominations through his work for Warner Bros. and the three films mentioned above.

Hyperion (Bantam Spectra)

Cooper and his production partner Weston Middleton are kicking their partnership off with an adaptation of Dan Simmons‘ four-novel science fiction series, Hyperion, that Cooper has been developing for a number of years. It was previously set up as a limited series at cable network Syfy, but it’s now moving to Warner Bros. with Oscar-winner Graham King also attached to produce through his GK Films. The novels will be adapted by Emmy winner Tom Spezialy, the former EP of HBO‘s hit limited series, Watchmen, and overseen and EPed by GK Films’ Hayley King. They are currently looking for a director.

Published by Bantam Spectra, the “Hyperion Cantos” series is made up of four novels: Hyperion (1989), The Fall of Hyperion (1990), Endymion (1996), and The Rise of Endymion (1997). Set 700 years after the death of Old Earth, where the entire galaxy is at war, it follows seven strangers on a journey to unlock the mysteries of the planet Hyperion’s Time Tombs — each convinced that they alone carry the key to saving humanity.

Yet another A-lister, George Clooney, has cast Callum Turner (the Fantastic Beasts franchise) to star in his next movie, The Boys in the Boat, for MGM Pictures. It’s based on a book about the true story of the 1936 Men’s Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington with Clooney co-directing the project with his long-time producing partner, Grant Heslov.

Zack Snyder has been having a great year with the success of his Netflix films, Army of the Dead and prequel Army of Thieves, and the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max, but he’s now moving onto his next project in his recently-signed deal with Netflix. This week, he cast Kingsman‘s Sofia Boutella as the lead for his sci-fi epic, Rebel Moon, which Snyder is directing from a script he co-wrote with Shay Hatten and Kurt Johnstad, based on the story from Snyder and Johnstad. Deborah Snyder, Wesley Coller, and Snyder are producing for the Snyders’ The Stone Quarry label, along with Eric Newman for Grand Electric. According to the tagline, Rebel Moon is “set in a peaceful colony on the edge of the galaxy that finds itself threatened by the armies of the tyrannical Regent Balisarius. They dispatch a young woman with a mysterious past to seek out warriors from neighboring planets to help take a stand against the Tyrant.” Sarah Bowen is exec producing for Grand Electric.

Taika Waititi

This next news seems a bit iffy, and it might have to be labeled as rumor until confirmed by Disney or one of the trades, but reported that hot Oscar-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit) will direct a movie based on the popular Disneyland theme park ride, Tower of Terror, which already has his Jojo Rabbit Oscar-nominated star, Scarlett Johansson, attached as a producer. Johansson had some issues with Disney earlier this year over a breach of contract with the day-and-date release of Marvel Studios‘ Black Widow on its streamer, Disney+, but that seemingly was resolvedToy Story 4 and Inside Out writer Josh Cooley has been developing the script, which will continue the Mouse House’s use of its theme park rides as IP for other projects, similar to Pirates of the Caribbean and this year’s Jungle Cruise.

After all the exciting news above, we have to bring things down to report a few more problems on set, this one coming from Deadline, which reports that the Brian Epstein biopic, Middle Man, about the former Beatles manager, has run into problems with the UK-based production shutting down mid-shoot with no plans to restart until 2022, when it will be moved to Los Angeles, possibly with a new director.

According to the production, “The director of Midas Man Jonas Akerlund is taking a break from the film. Until some matters become clearer, we are not able to add any further comment to this statement. In the meantime, we can confirm that filming of Midas Man will continue in London in November before breaking for Christmas. Filming will restart in early January in Los Angeles.”  The Swedish Akerlund, a well-regarded music video director, may not return to direct as the project looks for a new director.

The film stars Jacob Fortune-Lloyd (The Queen’s Gambit) as Epstein, as well as Emily Watson, Eddie Marsan, Lukas Gage, Rosie Day, and Bill Milner. Akerlund’s reps haven’t commented yet, but his departure seems to be more due to other work commitments than anything health-related.

Jessica Chastain
Jessica Chastain in The 355 (Universal)

Lionsgate has picked up the spec packageWayland, in competition, based on a script by Dark Phoenix Director Simon Kinberg, which is produced by that film’s star, Jessica Chastain, who went on to make next year’s action-thriller, The 355, with Kinberg. Michael Showalter (reteaming with Chastain after making The Eyes of Tammy Faye) will direct the project that’s looking to start production in 2022.  Kinberg will produce with his Genre Films boss Audrey Chon, Chastain, and her Freckle Films leader, Kelly Carmichael. Showalter will also exec. produce, and presumably, Chastain will be part of the film’s ensemble cast, of which little is known beyond the title.

Another new project in development is Semper Fi, the true story of Marine Maj. Thomas Schueman and his extraordinary Afghan interpreter Zainulla Zaki, which is being adapted by Oscar-nominated Saving Private Ryan scribe Robert Rodat. The project comes from producers Flashlight Films Managing Partner Allyn Stewart and veteran movie producer Hawk Koch, former president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and the Producers Guild (PGA). Michael and Carole Marks are financing the screenplay and will be exec. producers. Before we share the tagline, you might remember that there’s another film in the works, ALSO about a soldier returning to Afghanistan to repay a debt to his interpreter, this one from Guy Ritchie and Jake Gyllenhaal, as we reported on Monday. The tagline for Semper Fi is: “During fierce fighting in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, the two men formed an unbreakable brotherhood that transcended the differences in their cultures and ethnicities. After Schueman’s return to the U.S. he tried, with no success, to help Zaki and his family get out of Afghanistan. This summer, as the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan, Zaki and his family were targeted for execution by the Taliban due to his involvement with U.S. Forces. Schueman’s devotion to his comrade and his struggle to save him, his wife and four children led to a harrowing escape and a daring rescue at Kabul’s airport.”

20th Century Studios and Hulu are moving forward with an adaptation of Stephen King‘s 1978 short story, The Boogeyman, part of his The Night Shift collection, with production starting in the winter/spring of 2022 in New Orleans with Rob Savage (HostDashcam) directing.  21 LapsShawn Levy, Dan Levine, and Dan Cohen will produce the adaptation that’s written by Mark Heyman (Black Swan) on a screenplay with original drafts by A Quiet Place duo Scott Beck & Bryan Woods and Malignant writer Akela Cooper. Originally, the movie was being developed as a Fox film, but it now looks like it will instead debut on the streamer. The short story deals with a man who visits a psychiatrist, to whom he tells how his children were all killed by the title character.

This news comes just a week after Kirby Howell-Baptiste joined John Lee Hancock‘s own adaptation of a Stephen King short for Netflix, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, which also stars Jaeden Martell, Donald Sutherland, and Joe Tippett. That project comes from Blumhouse and Ryan Murphy Productions, the latter of whom has an overdeal with Netflix.

The American Film Market (AFM) continues this week virtually, and we have a few new projects that have been announced. One of them is the ensemble comedy, Food Fight, which has been acquired by Clay Epstein’s Film Mode Entertainment, which had its premiere at AFM. The film stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Match Point), Claire Forlani (Meet Joe Black), and Mara Lane (American Night) and is written and will be directed by Rexal Ford. Film Mode is working with Producer John Bernard (Inception, The Hunger Games, Men in Black) to put the film together and get it through development to start filming in Ireland with additional cast to be announced. Food Fight is about “an arrogant food critic who finds himself competing against a popular social media influencer who wants to take his job and date his daughter, a prank war ensues that threatens to ruin both their careers and their relationships.”

Epstein said, “We are thrilled to be working with Rexal who has excellent taste in material. Food War is going to be a real treat for audiences worldwide and with this phenomenal cast, distributors are being served a hit on a silver platter.” Ford adds, “This will film will be a feast for the eyes and capture the magic of Ireland and showcase the Art of our Fantastic cast!” 

Another recently-announced project is the thriller, The Locksmith, starring Ryan Phillippe (Crash), Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns), and Ving Rhames (Mission: Impossible), which will start principal photography in Las Cruces, New Mexico on Nov. 15 with plans to be wrapped by Sept. 2022. Arclight Films is launching world sales on the package at the virtual AFM. The project is about “Miller, an expert locksmith fresh out of prison after a job gone bad. Back home, he tries to work his way back into the life of his daughter and his ex-girlfriend, Beth, who is now a police detective. Determined to make a clean start, he is forced to use the only skills he has as a gifted locksmith. But things soon get complicated after an unexpected kidnapping.”

Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixet (Learning to DriveElegy) has cast Edgar Ramirez (Joy, Jungle Cruise) and BAFTA nominee Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, The Morning Show) in her next feature, Nobody’s Heart. It’s adapted from author/screenwriter William Boyd‘s short story, Cork, and it’s based on the life of celebrated Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. It’s been described as a “beautiful, poetic story of love and loss” set against the backdrop of Lisbon in the 1930s. WestEnd Films is launching international sales at AFM.

Over to some casting…

Haley Bennett (Cyranohas joined the cast of the Orion Pictures biopic, Till, which is currently shooting in Atlanta. Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, the film also stars Danielle Deadwyler (The Harder They Fall), Whoopi Goldberg, Frankie Faison, and Jalyn Hall as Emmett Till.

An interesting film that just wrapped is Darren Lynn Bousman‘s new horror movie Cello, which reunites the filmmaker with his Saw star Tobin Bell, and also stars Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons, Syrian actor Samer Ismail (The Day I Lost My Shadow) and Saudi actress  Elham Ali (Ashman). Adapted from Turki Al Alshikh, based on his own novel, it’s the story of an aspiring cellist who learns that the cost of his brand-new cello is a lot more insidious than he first thought. The film was shot in Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic, produced by Lee Nelson of Envision Media Art (The Ice Road). The movie was financed by Saudi firm Rozam Media, who also owns the rights to the film.

A bit of movement in terms of movie releases, as Sony Pictures has moved the action-comedy, The Man from Toronto, starring Kevin Hart and Woody Harrelson, off of its 2022 MLK weekend release date back to August 12, putting it on the latter side of the summer of 2022. It will now be going up against the Paramount comedy, Secret Headquarters, starring Owen Wilson, and Billy Eichner‘s comedy, Bros, from Universal.

There were a few TV renewals this week, including STARZ renewing its wrestling drama, Heels, for a second season, while promoting Trey Tucker and Robby Ramos, who play wrestlers Bobby Pin and Diego Cottonmouth, respectively, to series regulars.

HBO Max has also picked up the pilot for the half-hour family comedy with the working title Camp Friends, written by Lauren Herstik (Suits spin-off Pearson for USA Network) and produced by Adam Goodman (Songbird) for Invisible Narratives and Jax Media. The project, which was put in development by the streamer earlier this year, revolves around four lifelong “camp friends” during their highly anticipated counselor-in-training summer. From the tagline: “When a mysterious new girl arrives late from another camp, the girls’ plan to have The Best Summer Ever gets thrown into disarray. Camp Friends live 10 months for two. Now that things are different, the “Core Four” swear an oath to do whatever it takes for their friendship to survive.”

Also, HBO Max has renewed its unscripted series Sweet Life: Los Angeles for a second season.

Harriet Walter from SuccessionAvi Nash from The Walking Dead, and Chinaza Uche (Dickinsonhave joined Apple‘s dystopian drama, Wool, as series regulars. The series is based on Hugh Howey‘s best-selling novels with an impressive ensemble cast of Rebecca Ferguson, Tim Robbins, Common, Rashida Jones, and David Oyelowo already on board. It’s written by Graham Yost (Justified) and directed by Oscar nominee Morten Tyldum (Defending JacobThe Imitation Game).

Did you know that Below the Line‘s Production Listings also includes television series in development and soon to go into production? Well, they do, which is why it’s great to subscribe if you’re looking for your next job.

Quite a bit of exec news today, way more than usual, which is why it gets its very own section.

Warner Bros. Discovery

Ahead of the planned Discovery/WarnerMedia merger (do check out Neil Turitz‘s The Accidental Turitz column today for more on that), Discovery CEO David Zaslav has hired Kevin Mayer, former TikTok CEO, DAZN chairman, and a longtime Disney exec, to help oversee the new streaming strategy for Warner Media Discovery, the label for the new streaming entity. Interestingly, it was recently reported that Discovery 20 million streaming subscribers, although Zaslav recently reported that less than half of its U.S. subscribers are also HBO Max subscribers. As Neil Turitz stated in an earlier column, the merger of the two companies should be a gamechanger in the streaming world.

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions and Stage 6 Film have a bit of an exec. shuffle, as Jon Freedberg has been promoted to EVP Content Strategy & Operations, having been with Sony Worldwide since 2008 and having been instrumental in helping Stage 6 Films land rights to hits like Tom Hanks‘ Greyhound and Amy Adams‘ Arrival.  Freedberg will oversee Marketing, Business Affairs and Finance for the label in his expanded role, while Katie Anderson, the VP of Production at 30 West, is joining as VP Worldwide Acquisitions with Daniel De Boulay being made manager of the division.

Hello Sunshine, the media company founded by Oscar-winning actor Reese Witherspoon and sold to Blackstone‘s Kevin Mayer (presumably a different one than above?) and Tom Staggs, has also given a bunch of promotions to six execs, as Ashley Strumwasser and Emily Ferenbach have been upped to SVP of Film and TV, Bree Frank is now SVP Production, Cynthia Rupeka is SVP of Reese’s Book Club and Direct-to-Consumer Development, Amanda Farrand is SVP of Fair Play, and Nick Williamson has been promoted to SVP Business Affairs.

Hello Sunshine CEO Sarah Harden said, “There is no better group of executives that fully exemplify Hello Sunshine’s values, mission and passion for diverse, impactful storytelling centered on women characters. Their contributions over the years have been invaluable. Each of these individuals brings their own unique insight and expertise to their work and to the company overall. I could not be prouder of them, personally and professionally, for these well-deserved promotions.”

Neon has named Jason Wald from Hulu, as its VP of Acquisitions & Production, reporting to Jeff Deutchman, the EVP Acquisitions and Production. Wald will assist the team in ramping up production and picking up movies for distribution, having been Director of Acquisitions at Searchlight Pictures, picking up films for the studio’s theatrical slate and its Hulu Originals line-up.

Lastly, WME has promoted Sheri Linzell to Head of Scripted Television Business Affairs at the talent agency.

Another week without a ton of trailers, but Sony Pictures released its newest full-length official trailer for the vampire anti-hero movie, Morbius, starring Oscar winner Jared Leto. The movie will be released on January 28, almost two years after the first teaser trailer for the movie was released in January 2020. The movie is directed by Daniel Espinosa (Life), and it co-stars Matt SmithAdria ArjonaJared HarrisAl Madrigal with Tyrese Gibson.




Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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