soderberghHollywood studios finished 2009 with their wallets shut tight for spec scripts and new development. But maybe they’ll open for Steven Soderbergh’s latest: Contagion, an action-thriller that takes place in a worst case scenario of a deadly virus. He’s got Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, and Jude Law ready to star in it this fall, with Participant Media aboard as co-financier. Greg Jacobs will produce with Double Feature Films’ Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher.

Of course, this is familiar movie territory, from The Andromeda Strain to Outbreak, which beat out Ridley Scott’s The Hot Zone on the same topic. But both were hot properties, and given the subject matter, and Soderbergh’s involvement, and that cast, Contagion ought to spark a bidding battle. Several studio execs have read it, and the project will be be shopped shortly by the producers and Soderbergh’s Anonymous Content rep Michael Sugar. The script is supposed to be Traffic meets Bourne and was written by Scott Z. Burns, best known for co-writing The Bourne Ultimatum, and who most recently collaborated with Soderbergh on The Informant!, as did Participant, Damon and Jacobs.

After Che, the maverick writer-director has moved in a more commercial direction. And after Moneyball fell apart for him, he’s proactively going the indie route.  He began production last week on Knockout, the Relativity Media-financed espionage thriller he built around mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano, surrounding the newcomer with Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, and Michael Fassbender.