Studio pacts with Hemingway estate, U

Warner Bros. has acquired the rights to “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and the studio will pay David Benioff north of seven figures to adapt the classic Ernest Hemingway novel.

The catalyst for WB to acquire the rights was the passion of the writer, who turned an adaptation of Homer’s “The Iliad” into “Troy,” an epic Wolfgang Petersen-directed project that will star Brad Pitt and Eric Bana. Benioff will stay true to the period of the original, in which an American joined partisan fighters in the Spanish Civil War. There, he finds a reason to live when he falls in love with a refugee. That life-changing event comes just as he is tapped for a potential suicide mission.

The book was turned into a film in 1943 by Paramount with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. The rights were acquired in deals made with the Hemingway estate as well as Universal.

Benioff has in a very short time become one of the hottest and best-paid writers in Hollywood, even though his first screen credit won’t come until Disney’s Dec. 19 bow of “The 25th Hour,” the Spike Lee-directed adaptation of Benioff’s novel, starring Edward Norton. Benioff followed that by being paid $1.8 million by New Regency for his spec script “Stay,” which David Fincher will direct. The scribe then scored a $1.25 million against $2 million deal from DreamWorks for “Alpha,” a pitch that is being crafted as a directing vehicle for Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”).

The writer will begin working on the Hemingway project after he completes an adaptation of “Right as Rain,” a George Pelicanos novel that will be directed by “8 Mile” helmer Curtis Hanson. Benioff will be paid north of seven-figures for both adaptations at WB. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” will be produced by Industry Entertainment and Nick Wechsler. Benioff will exec produce with his manager, Guymon Casady. The project will be shepherded by WB’s Kevin McCormick and Jeff Robinov. WMA reps Benioff.

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