Prod'n banner should survive Grey's exit

Brad Grey’s planned move to Paramount has left a maze of questions in its wake, as well as a great deal of angst. No one doubts that Brillstein Grey will continue to thrive as a management company, fortified as it is with 150 clients and a strong TV division.

The big ifs surround Plan B, the Warner Bros.-based film production company started 2½ years ago with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. With a pricey tentpole picture due out next summer and greenlights on other projects, will any — or many — of those films follow Grey to Paramount?

As of Monday night, Warners has not been approached on any of these issues. Indeed, the negotiations to extricate these films would be complex and pricey.

Grey, of course, is a nonexclusive. Several of the executives with whom Grey has relationships at other companies have expressed indignation over the secretiveness that has characterized the Paramount negotiations. “Everyone likes Brad, but we all expected more in the way of candor from the man,” said one senior studio exec.

Plan B’s first film, the Tim Burton-directed “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” bows July 15, and Plan B has a greenlight from WB on Martin Scorsese-directed drama “The Departed,” with Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, and from TriStar on the Ryan Murphy-directed “Running With Scissors,” starring Annette Bening. Right behind that is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” an adaptation of the Mark Haddon novel that “Harry Potter” scribe Steve Kloves adapted and plans to direct.

Despite this and other plum development projects like the Audrey Niffenegger novel “The Time Traveler’s Wife” at New Line, some wonder if the shingle will lose momentum with the absence of Grey, who with Initial Entertainment’s Graham King made the biggest buck book deal of last year when Warners and IEG paid $2 million for “Shantaram,” with Johnny Depp poised to star as a heroin addict who escapes an Australian prison and winds up fighting the Russians in Afghanistan.

Book buyer

Plan B quickly emerged as a prolific buyer of books, but much of the company’s identity centers on Grey, whose determination to become a film mogul, plus the chance to get a film toplined by Pitt or Aniston, prompted WB prexy-chief operating officer Alan Horn into giving a three-year first-dollar gross deal to a trio of largely unproven film producers.

The studio was putting the finishing touches on a three-year extension to a deal that was set to expire in June. Insiders on both sides said nothing has been finalized and that it is conceivable the shingle could follow Grey to Par.

Whatever the studio affiliation, Plan B is expected to carry on. Though currently on maternity leave, longtime Paramount exec Dede Gardner is Plan B president, leading a creative team consisting of Kristin Hahn, Kassie Evashevski, Jeremy Kleiner and Susie Fitzgerald. The film company has operated hand in hand with Brillstein-Grey, the management company Grey wholly owned.

The management firm, which is now 36 years old and reps 150 clients, is likely to be spearheaded by a team of up to nine who manage the bulk of clients, headed by Cynthia Pett-Dante (Pitt’s manager) and Marc Gurvitz (Aniston’s manager).

Star vehicles

Plan B has several projects earmarked as potential star vehicles for either Aniston or Pitt, the latter of whom has now toplined back-to-back WB hits in “Troy” and “Ocean’s Twelve.” Pitt is poised to star in “Hatfields and McCoys” with Eric Roth writing and Michael Mann possibly directing the adaptation of the Leif Enger novel “Peace Like a River.”

Aniston, who just wrapped the Rob Reiner-directed “Rumor Has It” for WB, is attached to several Plan B projects, including a film about daring WWII photographer Dickey Chapelle.

ICM agent Ron Bernstein said the company goes beyond the wheeling and dealing of Grey, something he witnessed when Pitt and Aniston personally wooed his client Marianne Pearl when they were seeking to purchase her memoir “A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl.”Bernie Brillstein, who made Grey his partner in 1991 and sold him the company in 1996, said there was little concern about succession as all parties wait for a deal to be completed.

“All I can say is that if the deal goes through, Paramount is really lucky,” he said. “Brad’s specialty is people, talent and a trustworthiness and character you don’t see often in this business. I think he’ll do great.”

Tube ties

Grey’s departure won’t necessarily have a huge impact on Brad Grey TV, the small-screen division of Brillstein-Grey.

BGTV has an overall pod deal with 20th Century Fox TV that’s slated to end this spring. It’s unclear whether 20th planned to renew the pact even with Grey involved, but industry insiders said his absence wouldn’t be reason enough for 20th to call it quits.

BGTV prexy Peter Traugott and development chief Fitzgerald did most of the day-to-day heavy lifting, putting together packages and developing projects for network TV. Traugott and Fitzgerald would still have access to the Brillstein-Grey client roster, which is one of the pod’s biggest assets.

“Even with his leaving, my guess is that they’d continue with the deal, unless they’re trying to cut costs,” said an industry vet. Studio wouldn’t save much coin, however, since modern pod deals tend to require minimal coin upfront.

Grey a ‘talent magnet’

Still, Grey’s ability to attract top talent was a chief reason 20th made a deal with Brad Grey TV. Indeed, back in 2002, when the pact was announced, 20th prexy Dana Walden said her studio would “be incredibly enhanced with a talent magnet like Brad Grey. He’s clearly a really smart guy who has incredible taste and a strong sense of what works both commercially and critically.”

BGTV’s biggest network hit is “According to Jim,” which came about before the shingle signed at 20th. More recent efforts — including last season’s “The Lyon’s Den,” “Cracking Up” and “Married to the Kellys”– were short-lived.

Shingle has a very busy development slate for next season, with a slew of talent-driven projects. Among the thesps working on 20th/BGTV projects: Molly Shannon, Wayne Brady, Nick Lachey, Melissa Etheridge and Tom Arnold. Shingle is also producing ABC’s upcoming John Stamos laffer, set to bow this spring.

Par TV jump?

If 20th doesn’t reup with BGTV, there’s already speculation Grey may try to set up Traugott and/or Fitzgerald with a deal at Paramount Network TV. At least one other studio might be interested in a pod deal with a Grey-less BGTV, insiders said.

A rep for BGTV and 20th declined comment.

BGTV’s 20th deal covers only broadcast TV. On the cable front, where Grey produces “The Sopranos” and “Real Time With Bill Maher,” HBO execs said they anticipated no changes should Grey exit. For one thing, “The Sopranos” is about to begin production on its final season and at this point operates as a finely tuned machine.

(John Dempsey contributed to this report.)

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more