Studio's two-year pact with producer sign of times

Twentieth Century Fox’s first-look producing deal with Simon Kinberg points to the increasing clout some screenwriters are enjoying as producers — a duality usually reserved for television showrunners.

The two-year, nonexclusive pact with Kinberg’s Genre Films gives Fox direct access to his original ideas and keeps him close to the studio fold.

Kinberg’s films “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Jumper” and “X-Men: The Last Stand” have grossed north of $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office for the Fox family.

Fox is hoping to replicate the success of similar first-look deals elsewhere — such as Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci at DreamWorks, Akiva Goldsman at Warner Bros. and J.J. Abrams at Paramount.

Showrunners have long dominated in television, but feature screenwriters have had a more difficult time moving into producing.

That’s now changing, with Kurtzman/Orci, Abrams and Goldsman

producing a string of high-profile hits including “Star Trek,” “I Am Legend,” “Eagle Eye” and “Cloverfield.” Collectively, they have a strong slate of films in development at studios across town, including “Mission: Impossible IV,” the “Star Trek” sequel, “Paranormal Activity 2,” “Atlantis Rising” and “2:22.”

First-look pacts have been on the decline the past decade, and particularly the past two years. Often, a first-look deal includes paying some amount of overhead and space on the studio lot.

With the spec market in a slump, Fox prexy of production Emma Watts said having access to original ideas is at a premium.

The producing deal gives Kinberg the chance to farm out ideas to other writers, should he not want to work on the script himself.

“The writer-producer model has worked in television forever. People are now seeing it can work in features because of the success of people like Alex and Bob, and Akiva,” Watts said.

“In my experience, writers are often the best people to develop projects. You can maximize their instincts and understanding. Simon is one of the best in the business,” she continued.

Kinberg, a producer on Fox’s upcoming “X-Men: First Class,” said the “studio has been incredibly inclusive on every movie I’ve worked on with them, almost as in a producer role.”

Kinberg said the first-look deal gives him the opportunity to develop projects, in addition to his continued writing duties.

“Sometimes, you have more ideas than you have time to write, or are best suited to write. This gives me an opportunity to do more of that,” Kinberg said.

Upcoming films he is writing for the Fox fold include adventure pic “The Eighth Wonder,” which he’s developing with Nicole Kidman, and “The Hardy Men” for Fox 2000.

Projects set up elsewhere include action-comedy “Spys” at Warner Bros., “Luna” at Paramount, “Osterman Weekend” at Summit Entertainment and “Invasion” at Universal. He’s a producer on some of the projects, including “Luna” and “Osterman.”

Historically, first-look deals have been doled out to top producers and talent as a way of making them feel part of the studio. Fox’s other recent first-look deal was the pact struck with Peter Chernin’s new production company.

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