EXCLUSIVE: Justin Timberlake is making a deal to star in Friends With Benefits, a Screen Gems romantic comedy that becomes one of three bed-hopping-themed projects going by the same title. Timberlake will star in a romantic comedy directed by Will Gluck, whose recently completed Screen Gems comedy, Easy A, has tested strongly and is bound for a Toronto Film Festival bow. A headhunter recruits a magazine editor and since each is too busy to find a mate, they agree to sleep together with no strings attached. Things get complicated when the guy falls for the girl, who’s dating someone else. The script was written by Keith Merryman and David Newman, but Gluck is expected to do a polish.
Paramount is also using the title on a romantic comedy that Ivan Reitman will direct with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. Insiders acknowledge that Screen Gems registered the title first, when the Paramount film was called Fuckbuddies. While Paramount could have that title all to itself, it would be suicide to use it, because the studio would be severely hampered in its ability to market the movie in print and network TV advertising. Fuckbuddies isn’t the big obstacle for Screen Gems, though. The bigger problem is the series pilot Friends With Benefits that NBC green lit last month, after ABC dropped it. The series, about five friends who bed-hop while looking for true love, has some heavy hitters behind it. It was written by (500) Days of Summer scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, and Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin is executive producer with Imagine chief Brian Grazer and David Nevins. While Screen Gems can block a rival studio’s film release, I’m told it can’t stop a TV series. So Screen Gems will probably have to wait and see if the series makes NBC’s fall schedule and becomes a hit before it decides what to do with its movie. These title skirmishes come up occasionally. The most recent was on Avatar, and once again, Paramount came out on the short end. Fox and James Cameron had that title first, so while M. Night Shyamalan and Paramount made their film based on the popular animated Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, they dropped Avatar from a film that will be released July 2.