Several major Hollywood studios are courting J.J. Abrams, who is looking to land a lucrative megadeal with a big media company, a number of Hollywood insiders told Variety.
People familiar with the matter say Abrams’ ambitions are vast and that the prolific producer, writer, and director behind “Alias” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is on the hunt for the kind of super nova-sized deal that would encompass films, television series, digital content, music, games, consumer products, and theme park opportunities.
He is insisting on a certain number of “put pictures,” an industry term for a specific number of guaranteed slots on a studio’s slate of movies. It’s the kind of mega-deal reserved for Abrams’ mentor and friend Steven Spielberg.
Abrams is eager to set a new high-water mark for the value of the deal, with some speculating he hopes for a pact worth half-a-billion dollars or more. The talks are being shepherded by CAA president Richard Lovett, Abrams’ agent, and attorneys Alan Wertheimer and Jim Jackoway of Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum Morris & Klein, one of the insiders said.
Among those making the pitch to team Abrams: Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger and Disney studio chairman Alan Horn; Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Jeff Shell and Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley; and Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara.
While his business is currently split between Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. Television, Abrams’ team is seeking to consolidate under one company and earn a considerable payday in the process, the insiders said. Though Abrams, with his ever-present spectacles and curly mop of jet black hair, is one of the most recognizable figures in Hollywood, the scope of the deal is surprising in certain respects. Unlike Spielberg, James Cameron, or George Lucas, Abrams hasn’t created one of the entertainment industry’s Tiffany franchises, an “Avatar,” “Star Wars,” or “Indiana Jones.” Instead, he’s been remarkably adept at re-fashioning venerable properties, such as “Star Trek,” for a new generation. Abrams and his emissaries kicked off a spree of meetings late last summer, according to three people familiar with the talks.
It’s possible a digital player is in the mix to win Abrams, a streaming giant like Netflix or tech company like Apple. Companies like Netflix have been lavishing creators like Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes with nine-figure paydays to boost subscriptions and stack their library shelves with original content. The issue in that scenario is they don’t have theme park operations or consumer products divisions, areas where Abrams is eager to make his imprint.
Realistically, three of the individuals said, the race is down to Disney and Comcast/Universal, and both certainly have the infrastructure to indulge him in his efforts, though Warner Bros. and its parent, WarnerMedia, are still in the mix.
Disney, one party wages, is in the pole position since the company has a strong foothold with Abrams thanks to his work in the “Star Wars” universe as a writer, executive producer, and director. He’s currently working on “Star Wars: Episode IX,” which has been billed as a course correction at Lucasfilm after spinoff films like “Solo” failed to meet the label’s high commercial expectations. He enjoys a close relationship with Iger.
Universal also has an ace up its sleeve thanks to its long relationship with Spielberg (Universal owns a minority stake in Spielberg’s Amblin Partners), whose own career trajectory serves as a blueprint for Abrams, a person familiar with the latter’s thinking said. There is the possibility that the two A-listers could collaborate on projects, something that might appeal to Abrams. However, one source noted that while Abrams adores Spielberg, he also feels competitive with him and may not favor having his deal at the same studio.
Disney declined to comment on the matter, as did Universal. Warner Bros had no immediate response. Representatives for Abrams and his current distributors, Paramount and WB Television, declined to comment.
Abrams’ deal with Warner Bros. TV, which he originally signed in 2006, is up in May of next year. The Paramount deal, also forged in 2006, expires in March of 2020. Conversations with the suitors are happening at this early stage partly because of the complexity of the deal, insiders added.
Abrams has not directed a Paramount film since 2013’s “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” At one point, Abrams was expected to turn his “Cloverfield” sci-fi universe into a film-per-year operation at Paramount. The property suffered creative roadblocks and even saw a finished film, 2018’s “The Cloverfield Paradox,” sell to Netflix in a move that was widely interpreted an attempt to prevent the picture from losing money at the box office.
Abrams has been more prolific and culturally resonant in his TV efforts, like the cult hit “Lost,” Jennifer Garner’s “Alias,” and, currently, HBO’s “Westworld” and Hulu’s Stephen King-based series “Castle Rock.”
Abrams reps at CAA and Jackoway Tyerman Wertheimer Austen Mandelbaum Morris & Klein had no immediate comment on the ongoing question of a new deal.
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