'Bourne' co. gets new topper

Ben Smith will leave ICM to become president of the production arm of Ludlum Entertainment, the Universal-based company that produces “The Bourne Identity” series and has first crack at 25 other Robert Ludlum books that haven’t yet been tapped for the screen.

The move comes after Ludlum Entertainment made an overall deal that gives Universal exclusive rights to the Jason Bourne character for future films, and will seek to build film packages out of other Ludlum titles and original projects (Daily Variety, Nov. 21, 2008).

The Bourne trilogy — which has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide for Universal — has gone beyond original intentions to span three films. The studio is working on a fourth installment for a 2010 release, with Frank Marshall, Jeffrey Weiner and Patrick Crowley producing, George Nolfi writing, Paul Greengrass directing and Matt Damon reprising his role as the amnesiac government assassin.

Along with lit agent Henry Morrison, Smith represented the Ludlum estate in ICM-brokered film deals since 2002, most recently making a $3 million MGM deal for “The Matarese Circle,” which is being adapted by “Wanted” scribes Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, with David Cronenberg directing Denzel Washington in the lead role.

ICM will continue to rep Ludlum Entertainment.

Smith will join Ludlum Entertainment chairman/CEO Jeffrey Weiner, who made the U deal with production president Donna Langley last month with the intention of hiring a staff to generate more Ludlum transfers and develop projects not based on the author’s works.

Weiner had been Ludlum’s accountant for 16 years before the author died and made him gatekeeper to the estate and the topper of a holding company that manages movie productions, books and videogames from Ludlum titles.

Weiner is based on Long Island, and in Smith, he brings in a seasoned Hollywood-based player to run the shingle. Smith, who repped writers, directors and literary properties at ICM, will stay through the month and help transition clients to other agents. Many of those accounts will be managed by ICM CEO Jeff Berg, including the Ludlum estate

“We will miss Ben as an agent but this is a brilliant opportunity for him to build upon all of his agency skills and creatively supervise the film activity of one of the most popular authors on the market,” Berg said. “This also allows us to continue in business with Ben and Jeffrey to help create new film franchises from Mr. Ludlum’s remarkable catalogue and other film projects they intend to attract.”

Weiner said that Smith was an obvious choice for him.

“Ben has been our guy on the ground since Bourne came out in 2002, and he’s been instrumental in packaging the books with the right writers, actors and directors and matching them with the right studios,” Weiner told Daily Variety. “That is the toughest part, but he did it so well on `Sigma Protocol,’ `The Chancellor Manuscript’ and `The Matarese Circle.’ “

All of those projects became big packages. Aside from the Bourne franchise (which was renegotiated in the recent U deal) and the $3 million “The Matarese Circle” deal, Ludlum’s “The Chancellor Manuscript” sold to Paramount in 2005 for $4 million for a movie to star Leonardo DiCaprio; Universal and Strike Entertainment are developing Ludlum’s “The Sigma Protocol” with “Iron Man” scribes Art Marcum and Matt Holloway; and Summit Entertainment has Simon Kinberg writing and directing “The Osterman Weekend.”

“A big part of the appeal of running this company was to find outside material to build on this brand we’re creating,” Smith said. ” ‘The Bourne Identity’ and the other Ludlum properties are a great cornerstone on which to build a production company.”

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