EXCLUSIVE: I’m told that Sony Pictures is negotiating to acquire U.S. distribution rights to the untitled Kathryn Bigelow-directed drama about Navy SEAL Team 6’s hunt for Osama bin Laden. Mark Boal, Bigelow’s partner on the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, is finalizing a script that changes the film from a drama about an unsuccessful attempt to hunt the Al Qaeda leader into a methodical hunt that culminates in his death. The film is being fully financed by Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures. Production will start in the early fall and the pic will be ready for release in 2012.

Deadline pegged the Bigelow-Boal film — formerly titled Killing Bin Laden — as a potentially hot project the night that President Barack Obama interrupted programming to announce that the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center had finally been located and killed. It most certainly has worked out that way. The project was far along at this point, and they were talking to actors like Joel Edgerton even before bin Laden was killed. Sony’s Amy Pascal has been aggressive about the film since that night, and the studio and others heard the pitch from Boal right before buyers headed off to the Cannes Film Festival. CAA brokered the deal. There was a lot of talk about the picture at Cannes. I’m told that Sony will wrap up a deal in which the studio pays no minimum guarantee but puts up a P&A guarantee upwards of $25 million. Sony will get a 15% distribution fee for its troubles, but it also gets an Oscar contender. I expect that Ellison will now retain a sales agent to sell international rights for a film that is expected to cost between $25 million-$30 million, my sources tell me. Summit is the favorite to get that job, because of the work it did on The Hurt Locker. At the same time, others have laid the groundwork for similar pics. Disney trademarked the SEAL Team 6 name, and Universal and Peter Berg have fast-tracked Lone Survivor, a drama about a group of Navy SEALs and their fight to survive a similar assassination mission, when their cover was blown.

This will be another major deal for Ellison, who, right before Cannes, paid around $20 million upfront for rights to The Terminator franchise. She sold The Weinstein Company worldwide distribution rights to the next film by Paul Thomas Anderson. At Cannes, a big bidding battle was waged for the John Hillcoat-directed The Wettest County in the World with Shia La Beouf and Tom Hardy, with The Weinstein Company coming away with that deal. She is a producer on the bin Laden pic.