EXCLUSIVE: Following her exit from the executive suites of Warner Bros after steering Gravity, Magic Mike, Man Of Steel and others over a decade, Lynn Harris was rumored to be headed for a multitude of exec jobs that included being part of former boss Jeff Robinov’s new shingle. She instead chose to become her own boss. Harris has partnered with her husband Matti Leshem in Weimaraner Republic Pictures, a company that will generate content in film, TV and digital. They have quietly set up a bunch of projects at studios around town, and I only found out about their overall plans when Deadline revealed the heated auction for the Tony Jaswinski girl-vs.-shark pitch In The Deep, which Sony acquired as two other studios circled in the water.
Harris has a long track record shaping pictures from her days at New Line with Se7en, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Blade, to a decade at Warner Bros and a host of films that include Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, Clash Of The Titans, Where The Wild Things Are and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. She has experience in production and development, and strong filmmaker relationships. Leshem separately is the founder/CEO of Protagonist, an LA-based brand strategy company designed to be a disruptive bridge between traditional advertising and commercials in digital media. He has a long track record in music videos, television and films, Internet programming and branded entertainment. In addition, Leshem hatched the treatment for Gods And Kings, the Warner Bros project that was written by Michael Green and Stuart Hazeldine and had Steven Spielberg attached before Ridley Scott and Fox beat them to the starting line with Exodus.
Harris and Leshem told me that while she sat out the end of her Warner Bros contract, they formulated this company, designed to exploit her relationships and a fast-changing Hollywood landscape.
“It feels like the moment when tides are shifting around town,” she told me. “The idea of having greater flexibility around creation of content that can be distributed in many different forms, from the studio route and television and the independent sphere, was exciting. It allows me to flex muscles I have, and develop new ones. But mostly, this is about the freedom to run with ideas that may not be big studio movies, but might find their way to TV, independents, or digital.”
Leshem sparked to the idea of using his own varied background in creating content. “We are now in an era where distribution is essentially a commodity, which wasn’t the case five years ago,” he said. “This is the time to be in that business and if you have the ability to work with the best creators, come up with the best ideas and you understand all the distribution mechanisms, there would be no time like the present to be in the content creation business.”
The company is named after the breed of their two dogs. They are financing it themselves and aren’t looking for a first-look deal because they want the ability to go to a wide coterie of buyers and have more leverage and upside in the pictures they develop. Besides the shark film, Weimaraner has set at Warner Bros Megiddo, an epic adventure set against the Sinai Campaign of World War I and is based on a treatment by Leshem. Greg Ostrin is executive producer on that one. They are separately negotiating with DreamWorks for the Kathy Murphy novel Pulpwood Queens, with Clare Sera writing the script and Lauren Taylor exec producing.
Harris is right now producing for Sony Pictures The 5th Wave, an adaptation of the Rick Yancey bestselling novel that is being directed by J Blakeson and stars Chloe Moretz. Weimaraner didn’t develop that; Harris was invited aboard to produce by the studio and is producing with Graham King and Material Pictures’ Tobey Maguire and Matthew Plouffe.
Weimaraner is developing TV and digital projects already, they said. While they were late to the gate on Gods And Kings, they are shopping that epic storyline as a TV series. Prophet: Moses is being done with producer Dan Lin’s Lin Pictures, Spielberg’s Amblin and Warner Bros TV.
“The first ones we’ve set are big studio movies; that’s what I know and we like, and we are just drawn to big feature fare,” Harris said. “But we are not limited to it.”
Said Leshem: “I have always filtered every idea through Lynn, not because I’m married to her, but because she has the best taste.” He said that when he was hashing out the Moses story, she tired of him studying and parading religious experts through the house and made him pitch it to her and then sketch out an idea that led to a big sale, and nearly a blockbuster film. “I’ve been doing business in content creation, not particularly movies, for really long time,” he said. “The combination of someone who has such great relationships and made a real name for herself over 25 years, and someone who has an entrepreneurial energy, well, we rolled it around and came out feeling like we ought to give this a run.”
They have offices in Los Angeles and will staff up, but they are in no hurry to expand quickly. Leshem has been through start-ups, and said the best way to go is lean and mean and add pieces when the growth is organic.