New Line plays ‘Game’ for 200G spec script

New Line Cinema’s recently revamped production arm, New Line Prods., has purchased Eric Bernt’s spec action script “Surviving the Game” in a move that demonstrates NLC is aggressively ramping up its development and production slate.

The purchase price of $ 200,000 against $ 400,000 is believed to be among the highest ever paid by New Line for a spec script and comes during a prolonged slowdown in the spec script market.

It’s also the first time the company has bought a script preemptively, essentially taking it off the market before other studios could bid on it.

The film, expected to go into production next spring and budgeted at between $ 6 million and $ 8 million, will be produced by David Permut under his Permut Presentations banner, which has a first-look deal at New Line.

Another interesting aspect of the deal is that there’s a nine-month trigger on the pact. In other words, the movie has to go into pre-production within nine months or the writer gets his script back. Because of the heavy coin invested by New Line for the script, this almost assures that the film will get made.

“New Line isn’t going to rent a script for nine months for $ 200,000,” said a source close to the negotiations. “They’ve invested a lot and they’ll want to make this film.”

The deal, orchestrated by New Line’s exec VP Michael De Luca, who moved quickly to take the script off the market, comes less than a month after De Luca was handed his new title, which gave him authority over the company’s New York- and Los Angeles-based development and production operations.

The script buy is the first for De Luca since he took the reins of New Line Prods.

According to De Luca, he was handed the script Monday afternoon by Permut’s development VP Kevin Messick and, after reading it Monday night, he made a preemptive offer the following day. Sources said Paramount and Morgan Creek had been interested in the property.

The deal was brokered by ICM’s Tom Strickler, Bernt’s agent.

A number of industry observers insist that the deal for “Surviving the Game” marks a turning point for New Line.

“This is a great deal for New Line because it shows that they can move quickly … and it’s a good size check for the writer,” a producer said. “These are things that New Line has been criticized for in the past and they’re obviously changing.”

One agent said, “New Line has been telling agents that they were going to be in the spec script business and act like a studio and that’s obviously starting to happen.”

“Surviving the Game” is an action film about a homeless man living in Portland, who ends up being stalked–for sport–by seven well-armed, highly trained hunters in the wilderness along the Oregon-Idaho border.

The plot is reminiscent of “The Most Dangerous Game,” the 1932 film about a man who hunts humans on his island. That film was remade twice, in 1946 as “Game of Death” and in 1956 as “Run for the Sun.”

De Luca said that although “Surviving the Game” is in the action mold, he was attracted to the script for its other elements, most notably that the story is more character-driven than other actioners.

“It’s not dependent on spectacle,” De Luca said. “A lot of the action films today don’t rely on character enough. It’s about more than just the action.”

De Luca also admitted that because of budgetary constraints, he wanted an actioner that wouldn’t send production costs sky-high.

“I’m not going to compete on an action level with the bigger-budgeted productions of the world,” said De Luca.

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