‘Passengers’ USA-bound

London partnering with Fincher

NEW YORK — Former Fox exec Michael London has made a two-year, first-look producing deal with USA Films — a pact that begins with “Passengers,” a sci-fi drama that shapes up as David Fincher’s likely next film.

“Passengers” is part of what USA Films chairman Scott Greenstein and president Russell Schwartz hope will be several pics under the Michael London Prods. banner to be distributed under USA’s Gramercy Pictures label.

London will produce “Passengers” with Fincher, based on a 25-year-old Robert Silverberg short story adapted by Greg Pruss that comes as close to a love story as one could expect from the director of “Seven.” It’s comparable to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” except in this case, the aliens are only interested in taking human form for wild three-day romps.

“The alien creatures are purely psychological, have no physical forms until they nest in the cerebral cortex and take their host on these ‘rides,’ ” said London, who first bonded with Fincher while he was a Fox exec on the Fincher-directed “Alien 3.”

“For two or three days, the person doesn’t show up to work and engages in wild debauchery, acting out the sexual, violent urges they normally suppress,” he explained. “That might mean three orgies, it might mean wrestling control of a subway car just to see what it’s like to drive 140 mph.

“It’s an amusement park experience for these aliens, who can’t otherwise experience emotions like sex, anger, fear. The humans endure it, but society is crumbling from the unpredictability and lack of control.”

Along for the ride

Rather than battle the aliens, humans endure them, and the story centers on one man in New York who has been “ridden” through an intense physical encounter with a woman also under alien influence. While the victims (who vaguely remember their romps) usually never want to meet the other people involved, the man jeopardizes his career to find her, even though she gets “ridden” regularly and has no recollection of him.

London had tried to work the short story into a film for a long time, but always got stuck on the inevitable desire to vanquish the aliens. Fincher solved the creative riddle, London said, adding that as in all Fincher fare, the ending gets far more complicated.

More the merrier

London pacted with USA after setting up two indie films that are set for production this year.

First up is “Side Ways,” a comedy based on the Rex Pickett novel that “Election” helmer Alexander Payne has adapted and will direct for Artisan this spring, followed by “40 Days and 40 Nights,” a Rob Perez-scripted comedy that Michael Lehmann will direct for Working Title.

The second film, which has been greenlighted and is casting, revolves around a guy who gets his heart broken and swears off physical contact with women for 40 days. After establishing himself as master of his domain, the guy meets the woman of his dreams — and is powerless to capitalize.

An edgy sandbox

London, a Fox exec for six years who had a producing partnership with Paul Schiff at Fox, found that USA’s voracious appetite for edgy product made for a good match.

“After playing in the studio sandbox a long time as an executive and producer, I found myself in midcareer crisis because the films I developed weren’t the ones being made,” London said. “As the studios concentrate more on event films, the middle ground where I fit has been taken by independents.

“There aren’t a lot of producers in the independent world with studio background and savvy to make films in the $10 million to $25 million range, so this opportunity was enormously exciting to me.”

While Fincher’s past few films have been pricey — “The Fight Club” got pummeled for its $70 million pricetag — the goal is to shoot “Passengers” for no more than $30 million.

Greenstein said that USA’s priority is to ramp up production and that London “has a diverse, creative lineup of projects in development we think will best be served by our partnership.”

London’s deal was negotiated by USA business affairs senior veep Howard Meyers and attorney Michael Schenkman.

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