2ND UPDATE, 12:01 PM PT: After much back and forth Saturday involving Sony, Universal and a last-ditch overture from Warner Bros, Sony finally closed its deal for Winter’s Knight, the Viking-mythology-tinged origin story of St. Nick and Christmas. Sony emerged as front-runner when it agreed to pay $1 million to newbie scribes Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton, for the biggest spec sale of this year so far. That was the easy part. Deals were then made for producers Marc Platt and Lawrence Grey. More challenging was making a deal with the white hot Kon-Tiki helmers Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, but that effort was led by incoming Sony Pictures Production President Michael De Luca. His persuasive pitch was that he plans to bring in the next generation of emerging filmmakers, much the way he did at ’90s New Line with the likes of David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson. That, and a precedent-setting mid-seven-figure salary for the directing team, sealed the deal. If Disney can keep to its schedule and get the next Pirates of the Caribbean to set sail before year’s end, the directors will make that after completing the pilot for the Netflix/Weinstein Company series Marco Polo, and Winter’s Knight will come after. Also intriguing is how this movie will lengthen the movie credit resume of L. Frank Baum, best known for The Wizard Of Oz. The subject matter is his 1902 book The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus. Of course, Baum’s work has fallen into public domain, meaning anyone can pillage it for movie ideas. At the rate Baum is going, with all the Oz incarnations and now this work being turned into big money Hollywood films, he might end up spinning in his grave almost as fast as Shakespeare, long Hollywood’s most heavily exploited public domain wordsmith.
UPDATE, FRIDAY 5:22 PM PT: Premature stories are surfacing that Sony Pictures won an auction for Winter’s Knight, which Deadline revealed as today’s hot spec script auction. I’m reading in the trades that Sony won the auction but am persuaded that they’ve called an election before all the precincts are in. In fact, Universal and maybe others are still squarely in the mix. Yes, Sony reached an agreement with the writers to pay $1 million plus, which is huge for baby scribes. Here’s the potential problem: The producer deals aren’t sealed — but more important, all of this is completely contingent on making deals with Kon-Tiki helmers Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, whose heat has a lot to do with why studios have been hot and bothered about this. They will require a mid-seven-figure deal to get this done, and that hasn’t happened at all. The clock is ticking, as everybody has one foot out the door to prep for tonight’s Oscar bashes.
Ronning and Sandberg are directing what is one of the most expensive TV pilots in history, for the Netflix/Weinstein Company miniseries Marco Polo. And despite what I’m reading today about the Pirates Of The Caribbean sequel being shelved, the fact is that the Pirates sequel will begin at year’s end. Some of this solidification of Pirates is no doubt attributable to today’s spec action. If Disney sets sail in this timeline, Winter’s Knight would not happen until after Ronning and Sandberg finish the Pirates sequel. They’ve got other big fish on the hook as well, in terms of event pictures, so why would they get involved in this unless they get paid? Maybe Sony gets this, but let’s not dress for it just yet. Enough people in the mix are objecting strenuously enough right now and let’s face it, it isn’t really fair to them if their deal-making gets screwed up because of over-eager journos.
EARLIER EXCLUSIVE, 12:30 PM PT: While all Hollywood is preoccupied with the Oscars, there is a hot spec out there that has created a big bidding battle that likely will be resolved before tonight’s big agency Oscar parties. WME and producers Lawrence Grey and Marc Platt are out with a spec called Winter’s Knight. It takes a revisionist look at the origins of Saint Nick and Christmas, mixed with Viking mythology. The script is by Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton. They are newbie writers, but the big carrot here is the concept and the fact that Kon-Tiki‘s Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg are attached to direct. Those UTA-repped helmers are about to direct the mammoth Netflix-Weinstein Company Marco Polo miniseries before moving to the next installment of Pirates Of The Caribbean for Disney. This has the potential for a revisionist origin story on the order of Snow White And The Huntsman, Pirates and Oz The Great And Powerful, and all the studios are putting in bids right now. A lot of the props go to producer Grey, who developed the script with the writers, much as he did with the British MI6 origin story Section 6, an Aaron Berg script Universal bought for $1 million in September. I expect to be able to tell you where Winter’s Knight goes hopefully before the agency parties begin tonight.