EXCLUSIVE UPDATE: After a hard fought auction that included Sony and Paramount and Universal and Summit, Twentieth Century Fox has emerged the victor for the hottest project in Hollywood right now: the live-action adaptation of the Seth Grahame-Smith macabre novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with director Timur Bekmambetov and producer Tim Burton who used their own money to option the book earlier this year. It’s a 3D re-imagining of Lincoln’s life that depicts the 16th president as an axe-throwing, highly accomplished killer of vampires, an obsession of his since those bloodsuckers supposedly took the life of his mother. Taking revenge, Lincoln wreaks havoc on the vampires and their slave-owning protectors. Only in Hollywood would such wild fantasy with the reputation of one of America’s greatest Presidents be in such demand. Fox wanted the project so badly that when the filmmakers came onto the lot, the studio had bloody axes and bloody footprints strewn about, and arranged for a bugle player in a Confederate uniform playing “Taps” to accompany them to the meeting with studio executives.

WME Entertainment made the deal, which just closed a few minutes ago. Production is set to begin next March, and this will be Bekmambetov’s first directing gig since the hit Angelina Jolie-James McAvoy pic Wanted.

Deadline’s Mike Fleming first told you last Wednesday morning that Bekmambetov and his producing partners Burton and Jim Lemley had studios buzzing as they personally pitched their vision for the project with WME agents Mike Simpson and Jeff Gorin in tow. The script has already been written by the book’s author Seth Grahame-Smith, and we heard widely that every studio was impressed with the  whole pitch, as well as the prospect of having the next directorial effort by Bekmambetov and a take honed by Burton. The only reticence was the ask: the film’s budget is a reasonable $69 million, but Fleming was told that the first dollar gross request was just north of 25% (insiders said it wasn’t quite that high). The final deal was rich. But Fox, led by production president Emma Watts, now has a tentpole teed up for a March start.

EXCLUSIVE 6 AM: As of yesterday, Sony and Universal and Paramount and Summit and Fox were all in hot pursuit. But Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos really kicked it up a notch. When Tim and Timur and their entourage of reps came to the Fox lot to present the project (the pair used their own money to option the book earlier this year), they were met with a huge banner at the gate. It had the title treatment of the script and was emblazoned, “Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov present Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter“. At their parking spot were signs saying “Parking For Vampire Hunters Only: park at your own risk,” and so forth. There were bloody footprints lining the walkway and stairs leading from their cars to the meeting in Building 88 with images from the book and lines from the script. As if that were not enough, there also were bloody axes strewn about, and a bugle player in a Confederate uniform playing “Taps” as the filmmakers walked to the meeting. OK, not quite Paramount’s goat gambit for Sacha Baron Cohen. But this is pretty cool, too. Once inside the room, Fox listened to the filmmakers’ pitch — and then gave its own which included meetings with production and marketing execs. Fox has existing relationships with both filmmakers — Jim with Timur dating back to when the studio talent-spotted him in Russia and released his first movie Night Watch worldwide; and Tom obviously has worked with Tim Burton in the past. Needless to say, Fox wants this Lincoln: Vampire Hunter project very badly and now the studio is certainly in the running.