Microsoft gets game in bidding war

A correction was made to this article’s photo on June 7, 2005

HOLLYWOOD — Monday was Master Chief’s day in Hollywood.

Messengers outfitted as the kick-ass space marine from Microsoft vidgame “Halo” hit the studios Monday with a screenplay based on the bestselling franchise.

Script is by “28 Days Later” scribe Alex Garland, who was paid $1 million by the software giant to pen an adaptation that meets the approval of its execs and the game’s creators at subsid Bungie Studios (Daily Variety, Feb. 4).

Microsoft also brought in former Columbia Pictures prexy Peter Schlessel to help it handle the project and serve as a producer in some capacity.

According to numerous studio people, Microsoft and its reps at CAA are seeking an advance of $10 million against 15% of the gross and strict control of development. Winning studio would have to follow a “bible” created by game developers to make sure any changes to the script don’t alter the universe established in the first two “Halo” games that will continue in future sequels for the Xbox.

Microsoft was apparently looking for a very quick response from studios, possibly as soon as late Monday.

Studio partner also would have to move quickly into production, with a goal of starting by January.

New Line and DreamWorks have already passed on the project due to its high cost and concerns about the script. In addition, Sony is believed to have not been included because of its PlayStation division’s competition with Microsoft.

According to studio sources, several others are at least potentially interested, though it’s not clear yet if any would be willing to come in with an eight-figure bid.

“Halo” is the first turnkey rights project in several years that has created such an intense level of buzz in Hollywood. Combined, the two “Halo” games have sold more than 13 million units and grossed more than $600 million in the past four years, making it one of the most successful franchises in vidgame history.

It’s particularly popular among young males, who make up the core gamer demo and often drive film grosses.

Because of its value to its Xbox unit, Microsoft has been particularly protective of “Halo,” refusing to sign the kind of licensing deal typical to most film adaptations. Instead, tech company hired Garland last year with the intention of moving forward only if it could sell a script and rights deal that met its approval for maintaining the property.

As a result, sources close to those who read the script Monday indicated that it was particularly dense and loyal to the game’s world, which features a rich alien mythology, but relatively little in character development.

Those who read it did so under watchful eyes, however. Master Chief apparently sat close by at each studio with strict orders to take the script back to space marine HQ once studio execs had finished reading it.

(Claude Brodesser, Nicole LaPorte and Gabriel Snyder contributed to this report.)

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