With ‘Safe House,’ a Hollywood frenzy over a movie that isn’t a remake


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Talk to anyone in Hollywood and they’ll tell you that the process of getting an original movie sold or made these days is about as easy as getting Sarah Palin to keep mum at a Tea Party convention.
Which is why it’s eye-catching that David Guggenheim, an Us magazine editor with no previous screenwriting experience, has just stirred a bidding war with a spec script (that is, an original script and idea that was written unsolicited by a studio or producer and isn’t based -- thank God -- on any prior piece of material) that he wrote in pretty much three months flat.

The movie is called ‘Safe House,’ and it’s a story of a young U.S. intelligence agent in charge of a safe house in a tumultuous part of South America. Soon after a prisoner is brought in, the house is attacked, and the agent and the prisoner must go on the run across the treacherous Latin landscape -- think ‘Collateral’ and ‘The Bourne Identity’ with a Che Guevara twist.


Universal Pictures and producer Scott Stuber (who’s behind the Benicio Del Toro monster movie ‘The Wolfman,’ which comes out this weekend) have just won the bidding war with a mid-six-figure offer, beating out power players that include ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Transformers’ writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (producing for Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks) as well as Sony.

In addition to the appealing premise, the movie is thought to sport a lead role that would be a choice one for a number of young A-listers, with its prestige gloss but commercial hook.

Guggenheim comes from Hollywood royalty -- his brother Marc is writing ‘The Green Lantern’ and his brother Eric was a writer on the Olympic hockey film ‘Miracle.’ But he’s a senior editor based in New York with few prior Hollywood connections (he recently signed with the agency APA and the management company Madhouse Entertainment). In fact, he just picked up the pen in the fall, motivated to finish a screenplay before his wife gave birth to their first child (she’s due next week -- so he made his deadline).

Working at Us gave him a particular entree to Hollywood -- but not an entree that one automatically associates with screenwriting (and not one that’s exactly conducive to free time). ‘I’d come home at 2 a.m. after an issue close and I was still wired, so I’d sit down and write,’ he says. ‘I think it helped that ‘Safe House’ is 180 degrees from anything you’d see in Us,’ he adds wryly.

High-concept thrillers with a literary pedigree have been in vogue since ‘No Country for Old Men,’ with a number of similar projects in development. It may be a while before some of these movies hit the screen -- and with development obstacles being what they are these days, a long while. But for all those rolling their eyes at the endless stream of franchises and remakes populating Hollywood these days, ‘Safe House’ offers a feel-good story. Says Guggenheim: ‘I only hope that it gives everyone else out there [working on something like this] hope.’

-- Steven Zetchik