'Drive' helmer offered potential franchise at Sony

After a lengthy search, Sony and Escape Artists have found a helmer for their Denzel Washington starrer “The Equalizer,” as “Drive” director Nicolas Winding Refn is in early talks to tackle a feature adaptation of the 1980s TV show.

At this point, Refn has only received an offer, with negotiations expected to start shortly. Should the deal close, Refn will have landed one of the more sought-after directing gigs in town.

Richard Wenk penned the script, which follows a former covert operations officer who hates injustice and fights for those who can’t. Created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim, the original TV series starred Edward Woodward.

Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch will produce for Escape Artists along with Alex Siskin, Mace Neufeld, Tony Eldridge, Michael Sloan and Washington. David Bloomfield will serve as an exec producer.

Andrea Giannetti and Hannah Minghella are overseeing for Sony, which aims to start production in late spring of 2013.

Sony has long been high on the potential franchise, which would be the first for Washington, whose films have consistently performed well at the box office. Par’s “Flight” has already grossed $82 million domestically on a budget of only $31 million.

The search for a director took longer than initially expected, as Washington had to consider several candidates in the midst of his awards season commitments, though Refn had long been deemed the frontrunner for the coveted job.

Sony hopes Refn brings the same edge to the project seen in his previous films “Bronson” and “Drive.” Another element that may have helped Refn land the gig: studio is looking to make the film at a moderate budget of around $50 million-$60 million, and Refn has proven he can deliver a quality movie under a tight budget. “Drive” was budgeted at $15 million and brought in more than $70 million worldwide.

Refn is currently in post on Ryan Gosling starrer “Only God Forgives,” which Radius-TWC will release in May. He’s repped by WME, Anonymous Content and Independent Talent Group.

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