UPDATE: I’ve gathered more intelligence on the flashy late night spec script deal made by Universal for Aaron Berg‘s Section 6 script about the formation of the British intelligence agency MI6. It’s not only an exceptional deal for a new writer; I’m hard pressed to come up with the last clean seven-figure deal for a script with no attachments. Four studios bid on the project: Sony, Warner Bros, DreamWorks and Universal. The deal was either seven-figures or very close to it, as some of the bids exceeded that amount, and there was talk that Fast & Furious 6‘s Justin Lin and Hugh Jackman were interested in the subject matter. Universal has attached producers Marc Platt and Adam Siegel of U-based Marc Platt Productions to produce with Lawrence Grey, the Last Vegas and Hope Springs producer who honed the project with Berg, and Caliber Media‘s Adam Marshall, and turned a spy thriller into a fictionalized historical origin story.
One reason Universal made the deal was they offered progress to production deadlines similar to the ones they had on Snow White And The Huntsman, which is exceptional for a film that doesn’t have a star or director attached. The script tells a compelling story that isn’t at all dry and dusty. The focus is Sir Mansfield Cummings, the storied Brit spymaster who was the inspiration for James Bond’s boss M. In 1919, his intelligence section, called Section 1C, was going to be folded into MI5, which is similar to our FBI in that it focuses on domestic threats. Spies coming through 1C all came from Oxford and Cambridge, aristocrats who stuck out like sore thumbs. Cummings got hold of a blue collar war veteran, trained him and sent him on a crucial mission: an attack on the British embassy in Russia (in which is now St. Petersberg) led to the theft of coded assassination orders signed by the King of England. The spy was tasked with recovering them because had they been discovered, WWII would have begun with those countries on opposite sides. Cummings etched his place in history and proved the need for MI6. The script was unusual in that is was peppered with actual newspaper clippings from the period to inform of how the stories were covered by British papers back then. Verve and Caliber Media repped the writer, and WME and attorney Jamie Feldman repped Grey in the deal. Jeff Kirschenbaum handled things for Universal.
EARLIER EXCLUSIVE, 4:01 am PDT: As several other studios circled, Universal Pictures closed a deal for Section 6, a spec script by newbie scribe Aaron Berg about the formation about the British intelligence agency MI6. Berg’s agents at Verve closed the deal in the middle of the night. The script got some publicity yesterday even though no studios had made offers at the time. The dealing started at 5 PM Friday night in LA and continued into the wee hours, like so many of those Toronto Film Festival auctions I covered.
Universal has experience in the espionage game, as the studio released the Eric Roth-scripted Robert De Niro-directed The Good Shepherd, a roman a clef account of the formation of the CIA. That film starred Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, De Niro and a lot of other fine actors. I moderated a Tribeca panel with De Niro to celebrate Uni’s 100th anniversary and when I told De Niro that his was one of those movies you wished was longer, he smiled and said, tell that to the studio, they were on me to shorten it the entire time. De Niro said they still talk about a sequel, and I hope they make it.
I can’t get enough of this espionage stuff and now it’s Britain’s turn. While MI6 is best known for its famous fictional employee James Bond, this is a historical piece that begins in WWI and has Winston Churchill and a coterie of other iconic pols all over it. I’ll tell you more about the script later, but wanted you to know who bought it.
The other take away here is that the early returns on some of these smart and sophisticated films —Gravity, The Butler, and this weekend’s Captain Phillips–have been strong, and there are more coming. Perhaps it has made studios hungry for the good stuff.