Producer inks first-look deal with U's Focus

HOLLYWOOD — Independent producer Michael London, who most recently produced Working Title’s modest hit “40 Days and 40 Nights” and its forthcoming “The Guru,” has pacted for a first-look deal at Universal Pictures specialty division Focus.

Deal marks an extension of London’s previous two-year first-look production deal with USA Films, which was recently absorbed into Focus when Universal Pictures bought Good Machine and merged it with USA Films (Daily Variety, May 2).

London’s first planned project under the new Focus deal will be an untitled black comedy that will see him reteam with his “40 Days and 40 Nights” director Michael Lehmann. Pic, penned by Matt Nix, is loosely inspired by Homer’s “The Iliad” and tells the story of two gated communities in Southern California that wind up at war with each other.

London has also hired Christina Sibul as his development and production exec. Sibul previously worked for four years as the literary manager of the Williamstown Theater Festival in Williamstown, Mass.

Focus has also boarded another of London’s priority development projects, “Passengers,” based on a Robert Silverberg short story. Script is one helmer David Fincher nearly made with producer London, though helmer has since departed the pic. It concerns formless aliens that temporarily inhabit the bodies of humans and compel them to engage in wild and reckless behavior.

“David has been both a studio executive and a producer, so he knows how everything works and gets done,” said Focus president of production Glenn Williamson.

“My hope is to attract directors with distinctive voices that Focus will nurture and protect,” said London.

London’s next pic will be production designer Catherine Hardwicke’s directorial debut “13,” an independent feature that Oscar winner Holly Hunter and teen star Evan Rachel Wood are in final negotiations to star. Shooting will start July 15.

Next direction: ‘Sideways’

Next up later this year is “Sideways,” written and to be directed by Alexander Payne, based on a novel by Rex Pickett. Unpublished novel is a dark character-driven comedy loosely based on “Withnail and I” about two thirtysomething males whose creative and emotional lives have suffered and who meet up for one final weekend before one gets married.

Also in the pipeline is Pandemonium project “The Moon and the Sun” (aka “Mermaid”), which Greg Hoblit will direct from a screenplay by Laura Harrington and James Schamus. Natalie Portman is attached to star.

London will produce with Bill Mechanic’s Disney-based shingle and the Henson Co.

Before forming MLP in 1998, London was partnered with producer Paul Schiff in the production company Horizon Pictures, based at 20th Century Fox, from 1996-98. Before forming Horizon, London was exec VP of production at 20th Century Fox. He spent six years at the studio.

Before joining Fox, London was an executive at Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer’s production company, then based at Paramount Pictures, where he worked on “Top Gun” and “Beverly Hills Cop II,” among other films. He began his career as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.

Focus senior VP of production and development Matt Wall will be the point person on London’s projects. Focus senior VP of business affairs Howard Meyers brokered the London deal with London’s attorney Michael Schenkman, Lehmann’s reps at Endeavor and attorney Bill Jacobson; Nix was repped by Writers & Artists Agency and attorney Rob Szymanski.

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