Though some star development companies have been dismissed as vanity deals, the venture formed by Brad Grey, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston at Warner Bros is generating solid results.
One year after forming Plan B, the partners have set 17 projects that include “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp and at least two star vehicles each for Pitt and Aniston.
Pitt’s first homegrown Plan B starring effort will be “Hatfields and McCoys,” a WB drama about the famous feud between the neighboring farmers that began when a Hatfield under Confederate colors killed a McCoy who was fighting for the Union army. Pitt and Grey want “The Insider” team of screenwriter Eric Roth and director Michael Mann to bring it to the screen. Roth’s set to write the script, and Mann’s in discussions to direct.
Pitt is also eyeing as a possible star vehicle “Peace Like a River.” Kathy McWorter has adapted the Leif Enger novel about a single father who takes his children on the road to search for their fugitive brother. Pitt and Grey are producing with David Brown and Kit Golden.
Aniston is eyeing as a star vehicle “Zora,” the WB-based true story of a woman who is considered a superwoman because of her vast personal accomplishments but finds her true strength when faced with personal crisis. Project started as an Ira Glass report on NPR’s “This American Life.”
Aniston said she and Pitt began producing projects together, limited by their busy acting schedules. Part of her motivation is to create projects that have female roles with substance.
“I am trying to lay track for what happens after ‘Friends,’ and I know well that films like ”The Good Girl’ are very hard to come by,” said Aniston. “Brad and I got into producing in a garage band kind of way until Brad Grey came with an approach that felt right for us. We can participate as our schedules allow. This has been an extremely busy year for me, and I wasn’t able to take part in development as much as Brad did. Now, he is working (Pitt follows “Troy” with “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and “Ocean’s Twelve”) and I’ve been able to sit at the table and get excited about some of the projects.
“With ”Zora,’ I loved the idea of this woman who, at age 6, wrote a list of goals she wanted to achieve by 31, and met every one of them by 21, including becoming a bounty hunter,” said Aniston.
She’s also eyeing “Katharine Fugate,” a New Line-based tearjerker about a 10-year old boy who tracks down his best friend’s birth mother as his pal’s dying wish. Plan B is producing the project with Wayne Rice and Mike Karz. “We all have our little gems, but Brad Grey and his team have put together projects that range from $5 million to $100 million films which takes care of our big fear of being accused of having a vanity deal,” Aniston said.
Indeed, the Plan B project lineup reflects Grey’s ambition to become a significant supplier to the WB pipeline. Success in the feature arena has so far eluded Grey as he built formidable businesses in management and television production. Much the way that Brad Grey Television provided TV work for clients like David Spade and Bill Maher, Plan B was hatched to potentially benefit Brillstein-Grey clients and utilize veteran B-G manpower.
The Plan B creative exec team consists of Kristin Hahn, Kassie Evashevski, Jeremy Kleiner and Susie Fitzgerald. B-G partners Cynthia Pett-Dante (who manages Pitt) and Marc Gurvitz (who manages Aniston) have taken active roles in the film venture, and B-G vice chairman Jon Liebman is running the venture’s overall business operations.
“I’d never really dedicated this kind of time or effort into the movie business before,” Grey said. “We spent the last year developing the first stories we want to tell, and it feels like we’re off to a promising start.”
‘Troy’ leads way
The company logo will appear first on “Troy,” Wolfgang Petersen-directed epic set for release next summer. Pitt stars as Achilles, the warrior who leads the Greeks against Troy. That film crystallized when Grey, Pitt and Aniston made their WB alliance, and the studio kissed them into a project that had been developed by WB and Petersen’s Radiant Prods. There are 16 other projects, some of which originated with Brillstein-Grey, some with Pitt and Aniston. Most are new projects acquired within the last year.
- The first homegrown Plan B project to start production will be “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel that Grey is producing with Richard Zanuck. Pamela Pettler is due to deliver the script in three weeks, and Grey said they’ve already reserved five soundstages in Pinewood for a spring start with Burton and Depp. Pic originated at B-G when Dahl estate handler Michael Siegel was a lit manager there.
- Right on the heels of “Charlie” will come “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Steve Kloves (the “Harry Potter” pics) has adapted and will direct Mark Haddon’s novel about an autistic 15-year-old who uses the sleuthing methods of his idol, Sherlock Holmes, to uncover the killer of a neighbor’s dog. Plan B’s producing with David Heyman’s Heyday Films, and the pic will shoot in London next summer.
- WB has hired Bill Monohan to script “Infernal Affairs,” the Plan B-produced remake of the Andrew Lau-directed Hong Kong action hit. The original, about planted moles on opposite sides of the law, has already become the second-highest-grossing film in Hong Kong.
- James Frey is adapting his critically acclaimed memoir “A Million Little Pieces,” a gritty look at Frey’s attempt to kick drugs and alcohol. Pic, which Plan B is producing with John Wells, is expected to hook a prominent young actor to play the lead role.
- Aniston’s “The Good Girl” director Miguel Arteta will direct and exec produce “Book of Joe,” an adaptation of the upcoming Jonathan Tropper novel “Bush Falls.” Doug Wright is scripting the story of a man who grows up an outcast in a Connecticut town, then moves to Gotham and gains fame as a writer by lampooning his hometown. He’s got much to answer for when he returns home to care for his ailing father. Matthew Greenfield is also exec producer.
- Jeremy Leven (“The Notebook”) has been set by New Line to adapt Audrey Niffenegger novel “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” a love story between a woman and a man, the latter of whom is cursed with a time-travelling gene that causes him to spontaneously appear and disappear at different times. Plan B’s producing with Industry Entertainment.
‘Losing’ on griddle
- Screenwriter Bill Witliff (“Lonesome Dove”) has been hired to adapt “My Losing Season,” the Pat Conroy coming-of-age memoir about his senior season as point guard for the Citadel basketball team in 1966-67. It is a bittersweet story as the youth must come to grips with saying goodbye to the sport that provided refuge from his bullying fighter pilot father. Plan B’s producing with Gaylord Entertainment.
- Pulitzer Prize-winning “Top Dog/Underdog” playwright Suzan Lori Parks has been set to script “Act V,” a fact-based drama about a female director who works with maximum security prisoners to stage act five of “Hamlet.” Like “Zora,” the project was inspired by a report by NPR’s Ira Glass.
- Plan B is teamed with Universal and Nicolas Cage’s Saturn Films on “Lou Zamperini,” a memoir about the famed Olympian and his harrowing experience of being captured by the Japanese and singled out for abuse by a camp commander. The long-in-development pic has Antoine Fuqua attached to direct and Cage to star. Robert Schenkkan and Neil Tolkin wrote it.
‘Loner’ out to helmers
William Goldman has scripted “The Loner,” a WB film based on a Texas Monthly article about an undercover cop whose diligent work makes him a target. Grey said the project is out to directors.
Grey has extended his “Sopranos” relationship at HBO by setting two documentaries at the pay web. “Three Sisters,” which tells the story of a sibling trio battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), will be broadcast in fall 2004 after first getting a theatrical release.
HBO and Plan B are also adapting David Rensin book “The Mailroom: Hollywood History From the Bottom Up,” a collection of war stories from Hollywood power players who cut their teeth in talent agency mailrooms. Grey is producing the pic with HBO docu guru Sheila Nevins.