Universal, Damon team on ‘Bureau’

George Nolfi to direct, write sci-fi love story

While Universal Pictures waits for the next installment in the “Bourne” franchise, the studio has stepped up to secure Matt Damon’s next film.

Universal is finalizing a deal with Media Rights Capital for “The Adjustment Bureau,” a contemporary love story with sci-fi overtones that was written and will be directed by George Nolfi. The material is loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story.

Nolfi will produce with Chris Moore, Michael Hackett and Bill Carraro. Production begins in September.

Nolfi, who scripted “The Bourne Ultimatum,” is also penning the next Jason Bourne vehicle for Damon and director Paul Greengrass.

In “The Adjustment Bureau,” Damon will play a charismatic congressman who seems destined for national political stardom. He meets a beautiful ballet dancer, only to find strange circumstances keeping their sparks from catching fire.Damon will star in the pic after he completes playing a South African rugby team captain in “The Human Factor,” the Warner Bros. drama that Clint Eastwood is directing and stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela.

Along with “The B Team,” to be directed by Adam McKay and star Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, “The Adjustment Bureau” was shopped to studios last week at a most opportune time. Box office is booming right now, but because of the writers strike and de facto actors strike that has sidelined studios for the past half year, studios badly need product for 2010 and 2011 pipelines. In different ways, each project challenged the current mode of fiscal conservatism at studios.

The Ferrell project, with a budget higher than McKay’s previous two films, and 25% gross outlay, was acquired last week by Columbia Pictures, a studio gambling that an action comedy with Ferrell and Wahlberg will find an audience beyond the U.S.

“The Adjustment Bureau” came with premiums that made studio chiefs think hard. The original offer sheet required a studio to commit to a budget near $62 million, with Damon realizing a 20% first-dollar-gross backend. The studio puts up P&A and gets worldwide distribution rights.

That seems reasonable for a big-scale PG-13 Damon vehicle with a premise that mixes action, romance and science fiction. But Universal is essentially licensing the film for a term that will run about 20 years.

While Sony will own “The B Team” in perpetuity, U will ultimately relinquish the copyright of “The Adjustment Bureau” back to MRC, which shares the ownership equity with the film’s talent. Universal keeps distribution rights in perpetuity and has safeguards that can extend the license until the studio at least makes back its investment and P&A outlay.

U made a similar deal with MRC on the Sacha Baron Cohen starrer “Bruno” when the studio paid $42.5 million to license the English-speaking distribution territorial rights to the Larry Charles-directed comedy, which the studio will release July 10. Ownership of that negative will eventually revert back to MRC.

Universal changed the terms from what MRC initially sought in several areas. MRC originally called for Nolfi to get final cut, which is rare for a first-time director. In the deal, U execs will have creative input in the film, though Nolfi has some editorial protections that he’ll be able to make the film laid out in his 129-page script.