While Jennifer Lawrence is set to star in the upcoming “East of Eden” remake, what’s really interesting about the film is how Universal and Imagine finally landed the rights to the John Steinbeck classic … yet again.
The news was a bit unexpected considering Universal has been hashing out the rights for the book with McIntosh & Otis (M&O), the literary agency that owns the rights to Steinbeck’s works, for more than two decades.
You see, Imagine and Universal previously made a deal for the film rights to the book in 2004, but allowed the option to expire.
When the rights became available again last year, Universal once again was among interested parties. Since then, the studio has been slowly negotiating terms with M&O over the past few months.
So why did the two all of a sudden come to terms?
Turns out The Weinstein Company (TWC) more or less forced Universal’s hand into finally getting serious about moving forth with the project after years of back and forth about making a film based on Steinbeck’s classic.
M&O president Elizabeth Rubinstein tells Business Insider that before the deal was locked Tuesday evening, Weinstein offered more than double Universal’s original offer to try and nab the rights to the book.
According to Rubinstein, Weinstein’s “out of the blue offer” was a seven figure deal and M&O was given only three hours to act upon it.
However, Rubinstein says the studio wanted to make a limited TV series instead of a motion picture. In addition to that, there wasn’t a clear focus for the project.
“Weinstein had doubled their [Universal’s] initial offer when they sort of caught wind of where Imagine / Universal was … but there wasn’t a specific way in which they were going to tell the book,” says Rubinstein. “It’s great to put all this money up front, but we also need to know how this is going to be portrayed. [East of Eden] is an American classic.”
Weinstein first expressed interest in rights three months ago, so this wasn’t a last minute negotiation.
According to Rubinstein, Universal somehow learned of TWC’s offer. Soon after, the studio put together a new proposal based on Ross and Lawrence’s involvement and after consideration M&O decided to close the deal with Universal / Imagine Tuesday evening.
“Until the Weinstein deal came in, they [Universal] weren’t putting all their cards on the table even though they’ve always been passionate about the project,” says Rubinstein.
After speaking at length with Universal, Imagine, and the potential screenwriter M&O felt more confident to sign.
“What we didn’t want to happen with Universal and Imagine again is to tie up the rights and have something not move forward,” says Rubinstein. “The thing that we have to be mindful of with Steinbeck is that we don’t want to just put something under option so somebody can say ‘Oh, I have a Steinbeck property.’ We want to negotiate with someone who is passionate about the work, curious about the work, values the work, and wants to get it made. Not just have it as a possession.”
Rubinstein says she and M&O have no idea how Universal got wind of the TWC offer, but added that it’s a small industry, meaning it’s not difficult for news to travel.
Universal and Weinstein weren’t the only interested parties in the Steinbeck property.
“We had other huge offers that we didn’t jump on because there wasn’t a vision behind it,” says Rubinstein.
Until the Weinstein deal came in, they [Universal] weren’t putting all their cards on the table even though they’ve always been passionate about the project” — Elizabeth Rubinstein, President of M&O
Apparently the book had plenty of attention ranging from Weinstein, to Sony Television, and a few indie producers before settling on Universal. Nearly three years ago, WB TV was in talks for an “East of Eden” mini-series.
Jennifer Lawrence is set to star as the main antagonist of the film and re-team with her “Hunger Games” director Gary Ross for what’s expected to be a two-part film.
Rubinstein says she’s glad the “East of Eden” project looks like it’s finally moving forward with Universal after all this time.
“We’re thrilled … There hasn’t been a new Steinbeck film in a very long time. Part of that is because we don’t want to just give an option to someone,” says Rubinstein. “[Steinbeck] is one of the icons of American literature, so we need to make sure all of his works are handled in the best way possible. I really think this will hopefully be the dream team.”
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