First-look deal includes two potential projects

Focus Features has made a two-year first-look deal with Sam Mendes and Neal Street Prods., the company the helmer partners in with Pippa Harris and Caro Newling.

Deal includes the acquisition of two projects that could be potential directing vehicles for Mendes.

Mendes, Harris and Newling are producing “Butcher’s Crossing,” an epic adventure based on the 1960 revisionist Western novel by John Williams.

Set in 1870s America, the pic focuses on a man who forsakes his Harvard education to move to the small Kansas town of Butcher’s Crossing. There, he joins the hunt for one of the last great buffalo herds.

Polsky Films’ Gabe and Alan Polsky are producing with NSP.

Focus will also develop “Middlemarch,” an adaptation of the George Eliot novel about changing fortunes in a provincial English community in the early 1830s. A script is in by Andrew Davies.

Mendes has not committed to his next film as a director. He formed Neal Street with Harris and Newling in 2003; the shingle most recently produced “Away We Go,” Mendes’ first film for Focus.

Neal Street’s theater productions include “Shrek the Musical” and “Mary Stuart,” and Neal Street Theatricals is participating in a trans-Atlantic producing partnership called the Bridge Project. As part of that initiative, Mendes directed a double bill of “The Winter’s Tale” and “The Cherry Orchard” at BAM, which has since moved to the Old Vic.

“The range of Sam’s interests and skills as a filmmaker is limitless, and he is a magnet for top talent in front of and behind the camera,” said Focus CEO James Schamus.

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