Producer to take 'Net heroes to the bigscreen

Producer Mark Canton has forged a partnership with comic book guru Stan Lee to create a big-budget feature based on Lee’s Web-animated superhero property “7th Portal.”

Canton will produce the project, with Lee and Stan Lee Media co-founder Peter Paul exec producing.

Financial details of the deal were not disclosed, but it becomes the second high-profile sale to go from dot-com to bigscreen in months.

Universal in May acquired film rights to John Ridley’s Web-based animated comedy series “Undercover Brother” for $2 million from Netcaster UrbanEntertainment.com.

U bought the series for Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment. Under terms of that deal, the dot-com receives a piece of the sale, producer’s fee and piece of the ancillary profits, having fully produced and financed the series by the supervising producer of NBC’s “Third Watch.”

Netcaster Shockwave.com, which distribs “7th Portal” is unlikely to get a cut of the seven-figure sale, serving only as a distributor.

“Portal” addresses the adventures of an interracial, international group of young and Internet-savvy superheroes.

“(Lee is) one of my real heroes,” said Canton, who added that as a kid he became an inveterate reader of Lee-created comic book heroes such as “The Incredible Hulk,” “Spider-Man” and “X-Men.”

All of the above-mentioned superheroes are slated for a bigscreen debut: Fox stakes the “X-Men” summer tentpole July 14, Sony is eyeing actors for Spidey’s suit and Universal hopes to make the earth shake with a bigscreen computer-generated “Hulk.”

As Paul pointed out, however, “Spider-Man” took 40 years to approach a theater marquee; “7th Portal,” which was launched on Netcaster Shockwave.com Feb. 29, took less than four months to create.

“We had 3 million downloads in the first three weeks and we’re now in the fast track for production,” Paul said. “This is the effect of doing business on Internet time.”

Things moved so quickly that Canton said when he closed the deal with Lee on Wednesday afternoon, he had not yet presented the project to the brass at Warner Bros. Pictures.

“We want to take our time and find the right writer and the right way to do this,” said Canton of his would-be franchise.

Given Canton’s track record of translating comic book superheroes to celluloid, it would not be surprising if his home studio embraced “7th Portal.” Canton previously oversaw the launch of the “Batman” franchise while president of production at WB and later supervised the productions of “Men in Black” and “Starship Troopers” while chairman at Columbia Pictures.

Last month, Stan Lee Media partnered with Paramount Parks to produce the attraction ride “Stan Lee’s 7th Portal 3-D Simulation Experience.”

“When we established Stan Lee Media in 1999, we wanted to show that the Internet could offer a new way for global superhero franchises to be created and then adapted to traditional media,” Lee said.

Added Canton: “The Internet is a great way to develop the movie. It creates the road we’re going down.”

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