Hollywood Movies

A24 Lands Magnus Carlsen Project from Emma Stone, Nathan Fielder

May 2, 20244 Mins Read

A24, operating on its new mandate to act aggressively in the pursuit of projects, just outplayed the Hollywood studios and streamers in order to pick up Checkmate, a hot feature package centered on a book proposal by Ben Mezrich, the author whose books were adapted into films such The Social Network and Dumb Money.

If deals close, Checkmate will reteam Emma Stone with Nathan Fielder, who both adorned the most recent edition of The Hollywood Reporter magazine and the stars of the Showtime series The Curse. Fielder is attached to direct, while Stone will produce along with her husband and partner Dave McCary via the duo’s Fruit Tree banner. It also reunites the pair with A24, which backed The Curse. Sources say the book deal is closing or has closed while the talent deals are still being hammered out.

In true Mezrich fashion, Checkmate sees the author tackling an esoteric and true life whose story may still be developing. Per the proposal that was being circulated, the book will spotlight the biggest scandal in the history of chess, focusing on the generational battle between Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen and the young bad boy of chess, Hans Niemann. The latter was accused of cheating in one of the pair’s head-to-head matches, which became an all-consuming scandal in the world of chess and beyond. Per the package, the story is not only about the rivalry and the scandal, but the macro backdrop is the rise of a billion dollar chess industry and so-called “collision of tradition and innovation” in the game.

Hans Niemann (left) and Magnus Carlsen (right) were caught up in a cheating scandal in 2022 that shocked the world of chess.

OLAF KRAAK/ANP/AFP via Getty Images; Marcus Brandt/picture alliance via Getty Images

The sale of Checkmate had a seemingly antiquated Queen’s Gambit, with an outreach that hearkened to spec or package sales of yore. The book proposal, all 12-pages of it, attached different talent and producers that was then sent out to different studios and streamers, “territories,” as it were.

Ron Howard was attached to direct and Air scribe Alex Convery headlined a package that went into Amazon, for example. Netflix and Apple had one with Welsh actor Taron Egerton attached to star. Harry Potter producer David Heyman was involved in a package that went to Warner Bros. A total of six producers were involved, according to one source.

Offers were in the process of being made by the streamers and a studio when A24 dove in with what sources say was an offer that guaranteed seven figures, and came in with a 30 minutes timer. It was an offer that was swiftly accepted.  

“I’ve never seen A24 do that before,” said one insider, who said the deal left executives and agents’ head spinning.

“I guess A24 is competing now,” said another source.

A24 has been the buzzy darling of the film scene, making edgy horrors, dramas and documentaries all on modest budgets and attracting the coolest filmmakers. But the company in recent months announced plans to scale up, with its most recent movie, Civil War, Alex Garland’s thriller that cost $55 million, a prototype of the scale of movie to which it wants to level up. But it hasn’t been easy — one project the company wanted to acquire was Danny Boyle’s return to the zombie genre, 28 Years Later, but it was outbid. A24 was determined to flex its might on the next one, if the right project fit their plans. Checkmate, indeed.

Mezrich is repped by CAA. Stone and Fruit Tree are repped by WME and Anonymous Content, with the company being co-managed by Mosaic. Fielder is repped by UTA and Rise Management.

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