Slate led by McCartney toon, 'Elf' musical

Nearly one year after forming Unique Features with a three-year first-look deal at Warner Bros., Bob Shaye and longtime partner Michael Lynne have assembled a formidable slate of films.

Projects in the works include their first animated film (with an original score by Paul McCartney); two Broadway-bound musical adaptations, of New Line films “Elf” and “Secondhand Lions”; and a Barry Levinson-directed screen version of the musical “City of Angels.”

Shaye and Lynne may no longer be the lions of New Line, but the pair say they are warming to the transformation from moguls to producers.

“Running a company with 650 people has its own excitement and thrill, but the reason you are doing it is to create quality content, and it is hard to feel close to that at the top of a big organization,” Shaye said.

Lynne described the transition as “strangely exhilarating. Instead of patting a bunch of people on the shoulder for making movies for us, we are now doing it ourselves.”

They put together a production team, with Dylan Sellers heading the L.A. office and longtime New Line exec Mark Kaufman spearheading the New York operation.

Shaye and Lynne have 11 projects in motion:

  • Animated feature “High in the Clouds” is an adaptation of a children’s book written by McCartney, Geoff Dunbar and Philip Ardagh. The film will be directed by Rob Minkoff and adapted by Caroline Thompson.

The book, about a squirrel’s quest to find an animal sanctuary, marks McCartney’s largest involvement in an animated pic since the Beatles frontman was part of 1968’s “Yellow Submarine.”

“Paul said he would commit to a score of original songs as part of it,” Lynne said. “Bob and I had never focused on animation in our career, but that got our attention.” They have not yet set the project at a studio.

  • Warner Bros. has committed to develop “7th Son,” a drama based on a trio of graphic novels by J.C. Hutchins. Seven strangers, assembled after the assassination of the U.S. president, each realize they are the same man, with the same memories. Originally published as a digital download, the first novel, “Descent,” is being released in the fall by St. Martin’s Press. Justin Britt-Gibson is writing the script.

  • WB is also aboard “Alt-Delete,” a sci-fi comedy scripted by Tim Kelleher and Danny Zuker in which two guys working for a vidgame publishing company come to realize they are avatars in a larger game.

  • Warners will also develop “Thieves of Baghdad,” a 10th century family adventure steeped in the world of the Arabian Nights, with Cole Haddon writing the script. Shaye he sparked to Haddon’s take on the original collection of folk tales “One Thousand and One Nights,” which is in the public domain. It is a film that weaves Sinbad, Ali Baba, flying carpets, sword fights and genies in urns.WB is also at the center of the stage musical transfers of the New Line films Shaye and Lynne germinated before they left New Line:

  • “Elf” will be workshopped in November with an eye toward a holiday 2010 opening, with a book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin. The composer is Matt Sklar and the lyricist Chad Beguelin, with Casey Nicholaw directing.

  • “Secondhand Lions” will be workshopped in 2010 for a 2011 launch, with a book by Rupert Holmes, Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary the composer-lyricist team and Matt August directing.

  • Unique has made a Screen Gems deal for “The Birth Mother,” a Jack Olsen-scripted thriller about a couple whose marriage is threatened when their surrogate falls in love with the husband and becomes obsessed with keeping the baby.

  • The Unique partners have reteamed with “Wag the Dog” director Barry Levinson for the “City of Angels” feature. Larry Gelbart will turn his original book into a script, and composer Marc Shaiman is attached to serve as music director, augmenting the original music by the late Cy Coleman. David Zippel, who wrote the lyrics for the original stage production, is back with the pic. Unique is producing with PicturePlay Films.

“Barry brought it to us, and the story of a writer of classic film noir detective stories, with the same actor playing both the writer and detective … is as great an idea for the screen as it was the for the stage,” Shaye said.

  • Shaye and Lynne have joined forces with journalist Gay Talese on a sports feature based on the formative years of Bart Scott, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker who just signed with the New York Jets at $48 million for six years. Talese sparked to the story of Scott’s upbringing in a tough area of Detroit.

Talese “is at least going to join us to write an extended treatment, and then we’ll find a writer to fill it out,” Lynne said.

Unique has also completed the acquisition of two books for projects that Shaye and Lynne will shape before presenting to WB.

  • “The Mortal Instruments” is a bestselling young-adult fantasy trilogy by Cassandra Clare (three more volumes are in the works) about a young girl who inherited an ability to see and interact with a clan of supernatural spirits.

  • “Even” is an Andrew Grant novel published last month about an undercover Royal Navy intelligence operative who goes on the run after being framed for murder.

Shaye and Lynne said they’re not bitter about their exit from New Line, which has found its footing as a downsized production division at Warner Bros. run by their proteges, Toby Emmerich and Richard Brener. Shaye and Lynne said they take pride in its upcoming films, which they greenlit. Those include “My Sister’s Keeper,” “The Final Destination 3-D” and “The Time Traveler’s Wife.”

Shaye said, “The projects that New Line’s name is on, and three or four coming up, were all pictures Michael and I were behind and approved, and there is a sense of personal satisfaction in seeing movies work, even if we don’t get financial credit for them. It validates your point of view.”

Lynne said, “Now we are looking ahead, not back.”

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