10.07.08

Spielberg's List

The break-up between DreamWorks and Paramount raises questions about what Hollywood’s biggest director will take on next.

With DreamWorks and Paramount finalizing their messy split, there is a new twist to the one of Hollywood’s favorite games: guessing which project Steven Spielberg is in favor of and which he’s abandoned. The two companies are divvying projects and everyone wants to know which films he’s going to take.

Though the final rulings are still underway (“Because this all just happened over the weekend, its premature to comment on anything,” said a Spielberg spokesman), here’s what I’m hearing are the ten projects Steven Spielberg is likely most attached to as a director, based on conversations with people around Hollywood.

1. Tintin
It seems like an irresistible collaboration: Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and the incredibly adorable kid from Love Actually doing a trilogy based on Georges Remi’s beloved comic strip about a young, dogged reporter whose nose for news often lands him in trouble. All indications point to this as the next project for Spielberg. Despite rumors that he was no longer directing the first film, the filmmaker, with unusual candor, has repeatedly said he’s in. Spielberg has held the rights to Tintin for 25 years and he may begin filming this fall, using 3-D performance capture technology from Jackson’s WETA Digital. Jackson will likely direct the second film; Schindler’s List producer Kathleen Kennedy is also on board.

2. Lincoln
Spielberg says he’d like to start this longtime passion project in “early 2009, because it’s Lincoln’s 200th anniversary.” The film is expected to focus on Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War. It will star Spielberg’s Schindler’s List cohort Liam Neeson and is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals. Sally Field was attached as Lincoln’s wife in 2007 and, while a lot of people thought it would come together very quickly, the film has been gestating since 2001. The director has been “very secretive” about the project, but he has a draft from Munich writer Tony Kushner and he’s back working on it again with an eye to next year.

3. The 39 Clues
The 39 Clues was purchased specifically for Spielberg. The book franchise centers on The Cahills, “the most powerful family in the world,” and includes collectible cards as well as a two year long mystery game for kids. Spielberg hired go-to-screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, who wrote Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. “They’re going to look at Nathanson’s script when it comes in,” says one person with knowledge of the project, Hollywood-speak that means they’ll see if they like it. Spielberg’s presence as a producer as well as director bodes well for the film.

4. The Trial of the Chicago 7
Based on the story of the seven Americans charged with conspiracy and inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention, The Trial of the Chicago 7 would mark a very political departure for Spielberg, as well as for stars Will Smith and Sacha Baron Cohen. Baron Cohen will play Abbie Hoffman. Smith may play Black Panther Bobby Seale (watch out, Will), and Philip Seymour Hoffman has been considered as defense attorney William Kunsler. While Paul Greengrass was approached about directing and passed, Spielberg, who had dropped out because of timing, may now be interested again. Aaron Sorkin is writing the screenplay.

5. Dinner For Schmucks
From the moment they met at the 2007 Paramount/DreamWorks Golden Globes party, there seems to have been a mutual admiration between Spielberg and Sacha Baron Cohen. No wonder, then, that the duo may find a way to work together on this comedy about an idiot who wrecks the lives of others. If Spielberg does decide to direct, it would mark a rare foray into straight comedy. The project is in development with Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, longtime Spielberg pals who once ran production at DreamWorks.

6. St. Agnes’ Stand
A Western that’s been though several drafts, St. Agnes has been held very tightly and few have read it. The project is likely adapted from Thomas Eidson’s novel of the same name about a wounded man on the run who, against his better judgment, stops to help a group of nuns under siege from Apaches. It’s another Parkes and MacDonald-produced project, and been in development for about 6 or 7 years. Those in the know say Spielberg and company are very happy with it, even though it has been kept very quiet. “They talk about it less than Lincoln, but that doesn’t mean anything,” says one person familiar with the project.

7. Interstellar
Spielberg attended lectures at Caltech for this project based on physicist Kip Thorne’s relativity, time travel, and wormhole work. The film was announced in 2006, which could mean it has been having trouble getting traction, but others say the filmmaker has been taking meetings on it. Dark Knight scribe Jonah (brother of Christopher) Nolan is set to deliver a script in 3-5 weeks.

8. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara
DreamWorks book exec Lisa Hamilton quietly acquired rights to David Kertzer’s 1997 true story of a Jewish boy kidnapped by agents of the Papal inquisition. Mortara was raised Catholic and became a priest, and the controversy around his upbringing led to limitations on the Church’s power in Italy. Some say the project was acquired specifically for Spielberg, an idea given credence by the fact that he director’s go-to guy for highbrow projects, Tony Kushner, is earmarked to adapt. But Kushner “hasn’t even started working on it yet,” says a source, because he’s working on Lincoln.

9. The Children of the Lamp
From a series of books written by Brit P.B. Kerr about twin Djinn named John and Philippa Gaunt who live in Manhattan and battle with evil Djinn, this unusual film has been described as a “big family tentpole”—aka, a blockbuster Some have said the project is “not for Spielberg.” Given all the other films he has lined up, it may not be. But everyone at DreamWorks is very happy with the initial draft and they have not gone out to other directors. So who knows?

10. A musical?
There are dozens of other projects which Spielberg may consider, but the director told Time Magazine in 2002 he’s set on doing a musical someday. “I'm gonna do that even if people laugh it off the face of the earth,” he said. It might be a good test for the man who can supposedly get "any movie made anywhere at any time."