EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has acquired the John Fusco spec script Phantom, a package that includes producers Harvey Mason Jr of Harvey Mason Media, and John Legend and his Get Lifted Film Co producing partner Mike Jackson. Pic will be an adaptation of the 1910 Gaston Leroux novel Phantom of the Opera, set in contemporary New Orleans.
Ty Stiklorius is the executive producer.
Fusco, whose script work includes Crossroads and Hidalgo, came up with the idea after becoming reacquainted with the French Quarter music scene where he began, while shooting the Bonnie and Clyde pic The Highwaymen.
“I was in New Orleans with Costner, Woody and John Lee Hancock and found myself reconnecting with my old musical haunts, and the next generation of my music cronies,” he told Deadline. “I began playing with them again, writing music and recorded two albums and during the pandemic I reflected on that journey and wanted to bring the screenwriting together with the songwriting and that music with a full out movie musical.” That led him to the LeRoux novel, which is public domain and has been made several times and served as the basis for the smash Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
“This is set it in the sultry nightlife scene of modern day New Orleans, the world of jazz, R&B, neo-Soul, and funk,” Fusco said. “The French Quarter, where New Orleans is not only known as America’s most haunted city, but the music, French Creole culture, the voodoo mystique, masquerade pageantry of Mardi Gras, just lent itself to a natural adaptation of the Paris setting, and a story that has revenge, unrequited love and mystery.”
He said it was a dream come true to work with Mason Jr (his film and TV productions include Jesus Christ Superstar Live, Sing & Sing 2, Dreamgirls, Pitch Perfect and Respect), and Legend and Jackson, who just produced the docus The Legend of the Underground and A Crime on the Bayou, as well as Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, latter of which was done with Harvey Mason Media. Among other things, they’ll help shape the musical sound around the story of a H.E.R.-like neo-Soul singer ingenue who is mentored by a mysterious man, as mysterious mishaps occur in a famed club trying to remain vibrant.
Mason, who worked closely with HMM creative director Britt Burton and Fusco, said that “this story was super exciting to us. We are fans of what Andrew Lloyd Webber did, but setting it in this location and a contemporary context is such a cool interpretation that matches the music with the city.”
Harvey Mason Media is represented by UTA, Artists First and attorneys Granderson Des Rochers; Get Lifted is WME and Del, Shaw, Moonves; Fusco is represented by UTA and Cliff Roberts of Syndicate.
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