Spielberg wins rights to ‘Lovely Bones’

Times Staff Writers

Steven Spielberg has finally landed “The Lovely Bones.”

After years of pursuing the movie rights to Alice Sebold’s 2004 bestseller, the DreamWorks SKG co-founder won a bidding war Friday to finance the movie, to be directed by Peter Jackson of “The Lord of the Rings” fame.

This ends a weeklong negotiation. Three other major studios -- Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. -- also vied for the right to bankroll Jackson’s next movie.

DreamWorks won because of Spielberg’s relationship with Jackson in addition to the studio’s marketing approach. However, details on that plan were not disclosed. According to a person privy to the deal, DreamWorks is paying Jackson just under $70 million to make the film, including his producing and directing fees.


However, other people involved in the bidding said there were offers on the table that in addition would have paid Jackson a substantial upfront fee and a large percentage of the profit. Jackson usually commands $20 million upfront as an advance against 20% of the profit.

“The Lovely Bones” is risky because it’s a dark adult drama about the fallout of the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl who narrates her tale from heaven.

Some executives who read the script, which Jackson wrote with his wife, Fran Walsh, and collaborator Phillipa Boyens, found it to be a redemptive story about spiritual healing and overcoming loss. Others were concerned that the depiction of the girl’s rape and murder would be too graphic for mass audiences.

But DreamWorks is not scared off by difficult subject matter: Its 1999 sleeper hit “American Beauty” was a dark drama about a middle-age man who falls in love with one of his daughter’s teenage friends, and the story ends in tragedy. The film grossed $353 million worldwide and won several Oscars, including best picture.

Jackson plans to start shooting the movie in October in Pennsylvania and New Zealand. Paramount will distribute the film worldwide.