EXCLUSIVE: Even though King Arthur doesn’t pull his sword from the stone for another month, Warner Bros. has signed a two-year production deal with Safehouse Pictures and its principals Joby Harold and Tory Tunnell. The duo hatched the pitch and got the whole thing started on King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the Guy Ritchie-directed film that opens May 12, starring Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law and Djimon Honsou. Safehouse moves from a Sony deal that is ending.
Warner Bros hasn’t been making a lot of producer deals, but Safehouse is certainly intertwined with a couple important studio franchises. Harold recently was tapped to start over with a script for The Flash, the DC property that has seen its share of filmmakers come and go. Harold shares screenplay credit on King Arthur with Ritchie and Lionel Wigram (who are producers with Harold and Tunnell), but it all started with a detailed, illustrated bible to revive the King Arthur legend through as many as six movies — if the first generates the box office to warrant further fantasy installments.
Safehouse has a separate TV arm and is exec producer on the WGN series Underground. In their offices are poster boards of characters, featuring every major star who could have played the major characters.
“It’s the original Moses story, extrapolated into an accessible mythology, and it’s a story that the Star Wars universe owes a massive amount to,” Harold said. “It was so interesting to break apart the mythology and look at it through the lens of fantasy, genre and tentpole filmmaking and see the similarities. The boy sent down the river, who doesn’t know his parents; the maverick next to him; the love interests and triangles. You recognize Luke, Leia, Obi-Wan. There’s so much meat on the bone there in looking at it from fantasy as opposed to sci-fi, that the goal was to give it space and not cram everything into one movie. It was, slow down, and focus on setting the table — or setting the round table. See what I just did there?”
What Harold did was break down the universe into six films, three of them stand-alone. “I broke it all down so you could read the outline and if you wanted it, could see 15 to 20 years worth of films,” Harold said. “I wrote the first one, and they greenlit the first draft. Guy came on and it became an exercise in marrying to the filmmaker’s vision.”
Harold and Tunnell are married, and she is perhaps more practical about what has to happen as King Arthur wields his sword against formidable early-summer fare that includes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. “Only if the first one works do we get to talk about the second movie,” she cautioned. “But the ambition of all this has allowed us to accomplish the first. There is so much potential.” Said Harold: “There is room to grow in success. The materials look strong, and audiences have gone crazy for it in screenings”
They developed a relationship with Warner Bros when Harold rewrote All You Need Is Kill, which, he said, brought back Doug Liman and got attachments from Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt for what got released as 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow.
A formative influence on their formula came on a project that didn’t get made, the film Mommy & Me at Sony. After they developed a female-driven multi-generational film from just two words and an ampersand, Meryl Streep and Tina Fey boarded and Sony won a competitive auction for the package. The film ultimately ran out of steam, but Harold said the success of providing a detailed presentation of what the movie could be now informs each project they will create under the Warner Bros deal.
They did the same on Robin Hood: Origins, which Otto Bathurst is shooting from Harold’s script for Lionsgate, with Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Jamie Dornan and Eve Hewson starring. Harold said Robin Hood was constructed as a potential trilogy, grounded with elements that seem relevant today.
“You need a good reason to tell that story again, and we felt we found a few,” Harold said. “There is the separation of church and state, and people being sent to war for reasons that, when they get there, aren’t necessarily true. There is a lot of geopolitical themes, including soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, as they’ve been doing since the Crusades. This is an evergreen story of a young Robin Hood who goes to war and comes back with a bit of PTSD, to a world he doesn’t really recognize, with the hypocrisy of the war he just fought weighing on him. We married that to the right filmmaker, and that was the movie’s journey.” Safehouse is producing with Appian Way.
Harold and Tunnell said their focus at Warner Bros will be mostly homegrown world-creation projects, with a big original science fiction project coming next. “We’d prefer to create our own material as opposed to chasing the book or spec on a weekend,” Harold said. “It’s not just classic IP for us, either. The next one is science fiction, with all the inherent spectacle but also with something to say beyond with emotional resonance, beyond the special effects.”
Safehouse veep Matt Schwartz is following Harold and Tunnell to Warner Bros and the company is repped by CAA.