EXCLUSIVE: Sony Pictures is putting the finishing touches on a deal for an untitled top secret project that JJ Abrams will produce through his Bad Robot banner. It’s a science fiction film that will mark the feature directorial debut of Chris Alender, who helmed the short Eye Of The Storm. This was a heated bidding situation — Lionsgate and STX were the other parties I heard — and Sony production president Michael De Luca got it. Aggressive progress to production language is part of the deal.

It’s the third significant acquisition that De Luca has made on hotly contested material since Sony was hack-attacked. Three days ago, Sony acquired the Jon Spaihts science fiction script Passengers, and right before that Sony bought rights to the NYPD corruption documentary The Seven Five.

Abrams and Bad Robot would not comment and like everything they are keeping a lid on this. I’ve heard the pic has a Cloverfield feel and a contained budget and that it involves aliens. Cloverfield launched Matt Reeves and Abrams is hoping to do the same with Alender. Though it’s Alender’s first directing assignment, he is accomplished. He started Soapbox Films, a respected studio that mostly generates content to promote products.

This project started at Bad Robot, which set it at its home studio, Paramount. Several drafts were written, the latest by Justin Doble. When Paramount wasn’t moving, Abrams persuaded the studio to let it go. Alender helped his cause by coming in with more than a script. He cut together a sizzle reel that accentuated the inventive things the film brings to the genre; he created a digital look book that explained the visuals of the movie and he even made a five-minute teaser scene that was an action-heavy precursor to this film. Now, he’s strongly positioned to make his debut and it certainly helps to have Abrams in your corner, though it’s remarkable he finds room for anything else while in the midst of the Star Wars revival.

Alender is repped by UTA and manager Scott Carr. Doble is repped by UTA and Abrams by CAA. Attorney Alan Wertheimer reps Abrams and Alender.

Here is Alender’s short film Eye Of The Storm: