MGM now stands for Mary's Greenlighting Movies. Mary Parent, that is, who has rapidly been rebuilding the production capabilities of the iconic studio since she grabbed the foreman's hat in March. On Tuesday, the Worldwide Motion Picture Group chairman gave her first greenlight to a spec script from sci-fi mavericks Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard titled "The Cabin in the Woods." Goddard, who most recently scripted the $168 million grossing (worldwide) Paramount monster movie "Cloverfield," will make the film his directorial debut. Whedon will produce as well.
Parent also is pushing forward MGM's "Red Dawn" remake. The studio has just hired screenwriter Carl Ellsworth to recraft the ultimate homeland invasion story for a new generation of besieged high schoolers. Dan Bradley, a second unit director and/or stunt coordinator on "The Bourne Ultimatum," "Spider-Man 3" and the forthcoming "Quantum of Solace," is moving into the director's chair on the update. Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson of Contrafilm, whose "Journey to the Center of the Earth" opens Friday, will produce.
Much of the industry has been tracking the Lion's moves with anticipation as Parent, former vice chairman of Universal Pictures, began acquiring executives and material at an accelerated clip during the past few months. While such projects as "Fame," "The Thomas Crown Affair 2," "The Zookeeper" and "RoboCop" have been whispering on the trade winds, the Whedon-Goddard project suddenly became Project No. 1.
"It feels great," said Parent, talking excitedly about a possible fall start date. "It feels really good. It just came in and it was ready to go.
"It was just very fateful," she added. "I couldn't have coordinated it. It just happened. There's other stuff that's percolating, but this just felt great. Honestly, it's one of the most clever and original scripts I've ever read. And I love them. You put the two of them together and it's kind of a dream come true."
Goddard, repped by UTA, and Whedon, repped by CAA, first worked together on Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series. Goddard has since written for "Angel," "Alias" and "Lost," on which he also is a producer.
"This has to be considered the dream scenario for a first-time director," Goddard said. "I get to make a movie with my best friend at a studio that's shown us nothing but aggressive love from the start. This script is very near and dear to my heart — I can't wait to step behind the camera and mess up all the parts Joss wrote."
Said Whedon: "The new MGM is the perfect place for Drew to do the kind of work I know he can do. Except for when I'm subtly sabotaging him because I'm jealous of his talent and height."
Whedon and Parent have their own history. They worked together on "Serenity," which Whedon wrote and directed for Universal. And Parent is the producer on "Goners," a secretive Whedon script that Universal bought in 2005.
The "Cabin in the Woods" plot line remains equally murky, and efforts to provoke a description from Parent were met with resistance.
"Yeah, right," Parent deadpanned. "I'll be shot. I've got like 12,000 online people outside. They've got me under pain or punishment, I'm not allowed to discuss. It's an intense visceral thrill ride and I'll leave it at that. It was everything you would have hoped with the two of them."
Parent and MGM chairman and CEO Harry Sloan announced the "Red Dawn" remake — along with a big-budget rebuild of "RoboCop," which director Darren Aronofsky among others has recently been in to discuss — in May at the Festival de Cannes. As the studio regroups, its executives have realized that they also can exploit the numerous classic and cult properties in the strong MGM library for a new audience. (Parent seems equally willing to take risks on such freshman directors as Goddard and Bradley.)
The original "Dawn" was the Cold War brainchild of writer-director John Milius, who devised a World War III invasion of America by the Soviets and Cubans.
"The tone is going to be very intense, very much keeping in mind the post-9/11 world that we're in," Ellsworth said. "As 'Red Dawn' scared the heck out of people in 1984, we feel that the world is kind of already filled with a lot of paranoia and unease, so why not scare the hell out of people again?"
Ellsworth is repped by ICM and the Shuman Co. Bradley also is with ICM.
Borys Kit contributed to this report.