EXCLUSIVE: It came down to Universal, Disney and Paramount. In the end, Universal Pictures stepped up to make the year’s biggest material deal, acquiring the untitled musical comedy feature that The Comedians star Josh Gad and writer-director Jeremy Garelick hatched together, with original music to be provided by top-tier Oscar winning composer-lyricists Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Deadline revealed last week that all the major studios had made offers the first day the project hit the marketplace, the same day that FX premiered Gad’s new series with Billy Crystal.
The deal that closed late last night is low seven figures for the pitch, with strong progress to production language, and total talent fees that will reach eight figures if Universal makes the film. There is talk of a stage transfer if all goes well. It’s the biggest material sale so far this year, and the biggest pitch deal in a very long time, richer than one Universal bought yesterday that has Chris Pratt attached, which went for a reported $1.5 million against $3 million.
Like that Pratt vehicle The Real McCoy that The Judge scribe Bill Dubuque will write, Michael De Luca will be a producer on the Gad/Garelick musical project. De Luca heard the pitch as he was leaving his post as production co-president at Sony Pictures for a Universal Pictures producing deal, and he was added to the producer roster alongside Gad, Garelick, Menken and Schwartz. Universal’s Peter Cramer and Donna Langley were very aggressive in winning the deal.
The pic’s untitled, a contemporary vehicle for Gad to play a domestic who integrates into family with a busy single mother, and becomes an important part of the clan. The story was co-written by Gad and Garelick, who worked together on The Wedding Ringer, the comedy that marked Garelick’s feature directorial debut and which he co-wrote. Garelick is writing the script and directing.
Considering the offers that were placed on the table a week ago (New Line and Fox were in it then), this deal took a long time to close. Some of that was attributable to all the moving parts and Gad being in London, where he’s starring as Le Fou in the Bill Condon-directed live-action Beauty And The Beast for Disney. But it was also because a lot of very smart people really wanted this. Disney didn’t have a producer in the mix for its bid, but stepped up to the financial terms as did Paramount, which had producer Mary Parent pressing that studio’s case. In the end, the deal went to Universal.
The auction was handled by UTA’s Mike Sheresky, Ramses IsHak and Tracey Jacobs (for Garelick), working with Brillstein Entertainment Partners’ Aleen Keshishian and ICM Partners’ Meredith Wechter and Doug MacLaren (for Gad), and Kraft-Engel Mgmt’s Richard Kraft (Menken) and attorney Nancy Rose (Schwartz).
Gad’s experience in musicals includes starring in the original Broadway production of The Book Of Mormon and he will next be seen opposite Adam Sandler in Pixels this summer. The Wedding Ringer was Garelick’s first film as director, and his scripting credits include The Break-Up.
As for Menken and Schwartz, they bring enormous cred to any original musical. They shared an Oscar for the animated film Pocahontas, and their other collaborations include Enchanted and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Menken has a total of eight Oscars on his shelf for films that include Disney’s Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and Beauty And The Beast. Menken is now working on that Disney adaptation of Beauty And The Beast that Gad is starring in. Schwartz separately wrote the music and lyrics for the stage musicals Pippin and Wicked, and also won an Oscar for The Prince Of Egypt. Wicked started at a Universal movie project before being mounted as a smash stage musical. It’s now being turned into a feature by the studio.
Gad’s lawyer is PJ Shapiro, Garelick’s lawyer is Todd Rubenstein.