Screen Talk: Birth of a behemoth


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The Independent Culture

Hollywood is abuzz with the latest hot coupling and it's not even talent bed-hopping causing the chins to wag.

Water-cooler speculation is currently all about rumoured merger talks between two of movie land's biggest independent producer distributors, Summit Entertainment and Lionsgate Entertainment. Summit brings audiences the Twilight franchise with Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart while Lionsgate is about to unleash the first in The Hunger Games movie adaptations. Both companies are all about hot projects, young talent and box office money-spinners right now. And both have established overseas ops, so a merger would create an indie behemoth capable of sizing up to the established Hollywood studios. As long as the hits keep coming.

Unholy backing

Cinema loves its tales of riches to riches. For writer Seth Grahame-Smith (above left), Christmas has certainly come early. The author, who penned hot property Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, just struck a deal with Warner Bros. The studio paid an eye-watering $2 million to Grahame-Smith for the rights to his new book, Unholy Night. Of course he'll have to work for it as he's been brought in to write the script. Unholy Night retells the nativity as an adventure story centred on the three kings. In Grahame-Smith's version, the three kings are thieves on the run who are forced to help Mary and Jesus escape to Egypt. It is due to be published stateside in April 2012. The film will follow.

Pee-wee returns

Paul Reubens, creator of the Pee-wee Herman character, is upping efforts to get back on the Hollywood radar. He's signed with agency WME for representation in all areas. The actor is slowly but surely coming back into the public consciousness more than 20 years after being arrested in 1991 for indecent exposure in an adult cinema in Florida while taking a sabbatical from his cult creation. That was settled out of court but media coverage at the time damaged his standing in Hollywood and beyond. But now he is currently developing a new Pee-wee Herman film, which is being produced by Judd Apatow and is set up at Universal. Before 1991, the actor's iconic turn had been the subject of two films, Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) and Big Top Pee-wee (1988). Reubens relaunched Pee-wee in 2010 with a series of live performances in LA and Broadway. and his The Pee-wee Herman Show was broadcast as an HBO special in March collecting three Emmy nominations.

Beasts of Berlin

The US's reluctant and mild-mannered ambassador to Berlin in 1933 William Dodd and his daughter Martha, a vivacious socialite who had romantic affairs with a Gestapo official and a Soviet spy, is to be turned into a movie. Universal has optioned the movie rights to Erik Larson's nonfiction bestseller, In the Garden of Beasts, for Tom Hanks (above right) and Gary Goetzman to produce via the duo's Playtone banner. Hanks is eyeing the project as a potential starring vehicle. The book, whose full title is In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, hit US bookshops in May.

Sleepless in Seattle

John Hilary Shepherd, the writer behind Nurse Jackie, has been tasked with penning a film adaptation of Cherie Priest's period zombie novel Boneshaker. Priest's book, the first in a planned series, is part of a science-fiction genre dubbed "steampunk", according to opinion-makers in Hollywood. For the uninitiated, that's a sci-fi or fantasy story set during the Victorian era. Boneshaker is set in an alternate version of 1880s Seattle. The city has been walled in and a toxic gas has transformed many of the remaining residents into "rotters", otherwise known as zombies. A young widow searching for her teenage son must deal with the Seattle underworld, airship pirates and heavily armed refugees.