Morgan Freeman has signed on to star in John Moore’s The Manuscript, a high-concept thriller that Highland Film Group and CAA are introducing to buyers in Toronto this week.

Production on the cat-and-mouse thriller is set to begin on October 9 with Freeman playing an imprisoned genius who uses clues in the manuscript of his upcoming memoir to guide a junior book editor to a missing $20m diamond stash he stole years earlier.

As the ambitious youngster gets closer to the truth, he becomes ensnared in a criminal plot that places his life in danger.

Moore, whose credits include A Good Day To Die Hard and Behind Enemy Lines, will direct from a screenplay by Louis Rosenberg and Joe Rosenbaum.

Mike Witherill (John Wick) and Mark Williams (The Accountant) are producing The Manuscript and The Fyzz Facility is the financier. Highland Film Group handles international sales and jointly represents the US with CAA.

Freeman recently co-starred in Going In Style with Michael Caine and Alan Arkin for Warner Bros and is currently in post on independent production Villa Capri,which Sierra/Affinity sells internationally.

Highland Film Group, led by Arianne Fraser and Delphine Perrier, is in town with a sales slate that includes Margot Robbie in thriller Terminal, and Jon Avnet’s Toronto Gala screening Three Christs starring Richard Gere, Julianna Margulies, and Peter Dinklage.

By Jeremy Kay, Screendaily.com

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Jim Sturgess is also boarding the latest film in the ‘Cities of Love’ anthology series launched by Emmanuel Benbihy in 2006.

Love is in the air for Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Jim Sturgess.

The trio have joined the cast of Berlin, I Love You, which marks the latest film in the Cities of Love anthology series launched by Emmanuel Benbihy that already has tackled tales of romance in Paris and New York.

Written by Neil La Bute and David Vernon, Berlin, I Love You segments are being directed by Fernando Eimbcke, Dennis Gansel, Massy Tadjedin, Peter Chelsom, Til Schweiger, Justin Franklin, Dani Levy and Dianna Agron. Josef Rusnak will helm the transition sequence that ties all the episodes together.

Mirren, Keira Knightley and Jim Sturgess join co-stars Diego Luna, Mickey Rourke, Toni Garrn, Sibel Kekilli, Agron and Rafaelle Cohen, who already boarded the project, which is being shopped to international buyers at TIFF by Highland Film Group and Disrupting Influence’s Glenn Kendrick Ackermann and Jason Piette.

The Cities of Love series launched in 2006 with Paris Je T’aime, which was followed by New York, I Love You in 2009. Berlin, I Love You will explore coupling in the German capital, where production is set to start by the end of September.

Claus Clausen, Edda Reiser (Walk on Water Films) and Josef Steinberger (Rheingold Films) will produce alongside Alice De Sousa (Galleon Films) and Skady Lis (Getaway Pictures). Emmanuel Benbihy is executive producing. CAA, which reps Mirren, Knightley and Sturgess, is handling U.S. distribution rights with Highland and Disrupting Influence.

Berlin, I Love You is part of a Highland slate that includes the Margot Robbie starrer Terminal, Jon Avnet’s Three Christs with Richard Gere (debuting here at the Toronto Film Festival) and the Lin Oeding-helmed thriller Braven, starring Jason Momoa.

Berlin, I Love You marks a reteaming for Mirren and Knightly, who recently co-starred in Disney’s upcoming live-action pic The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Mirren is currently in postproduction on Winchester for CBS Films, while Knightley has a number of films in the can including James Kent’s The Aftermath for Fox Searchlight and Wash Westmoreland’s Colette. Sturgess is currently in postproduction on JT Leroy, starring alongside Kristen Stewart, Diane Kruger and Laura Dern.

Knightley is additionally handled by United Agents and Sturgess also is repped by Garricks.

By Tatiana Siegel, The Hollywood Reporter

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Steven C. Miller is directing the project, which will now be a China-U.S. co-production.

Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista will team up with Sylvester Stallone for Escape Plan 2, the sequel to the 2013 prison-break thriller.

Steven C. Miller, who’s helmed action thrillers such as Marauders and Extraction, is directing the project, which will now be a China-U.S. co-production via Beijing-based Leomus Pictures and Emmett/Furla/Oasis. Mark Canton is also among the producers.

The pairing of Bautista and Stallone is in line with having two high-wattage action stars fight against, then team up with, each other. In the 2013 movie, Stallone, playing a prison-security specialist who finds himself in a near-impenetrable facility, partnered up with his 1980s action rival Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Plot details are being kept in solitary confinement. The $20 million production is tunneling for a spring start in Atlanta.

Bautista is a former MMA champion who segued into acting, slamming through to star status with a scene-stealing performance as Drax the Destroyer in Guardians. He reprises the role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which opens in May.

He had a turn as a villain in James Bond movie Spectre and recently wrapped a role opposite Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049. He is currently shooting Avengers: Infinity War and will then segue to Hotel Artemis, a sci-fi thriller with Jodie Foster.

Bautista is repped by Gersh, Meisner Entertainment Group and Mitchell Silberberg.

By Borys Kit, The Hollywood Reporter

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After years of quietly assembling an eye-catching stable of sales titles, Highland Film Group is poised to step up to the major leagues with its upcoming slate.

Highland Film Group, the West Hollywood outfit run by CEO Arianne Fraser and COO Delphine Perrier, is at the European Film Market (EFM) in Berlin with plans to launch a production division this year, invest in bigger projects and build on its reputation for sourcing compelling titles. The expansion is a logical progression for a popular, hard-working team with a penchant for action fare and a knack for pulling projects together quickly and smoothly.

Titles such as The Trust starring Nicolas Cage, The Life And Death Of John Gotti with John Travolta, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, which A24 will release in March, the upcoming Terminal with Margot Robbie and Braven starring Jason Momoa have kept buyers happy and are true to the company’s roots.

“I started Highland seven years ago not really knowing what that would mean in the long term,” says Fraser, who cut her teeth in senior executive roles at First Look International and Arsenal Pictures. “Our focus was reverse-engineering content for direct-to-broadcast. We would make these dragon movies [Dawn Of The Dragonslayer and The Crown And The Dragon, to name two] for a price and sell to broadcasters all over the world.”

Fraser learned early on how to maximise spend to deliver the most efficient return on investments. “You have to back into budgets for the content that makes sense,” she notes.

Universal language

It is a strategy that still holds true at Highland and has earned the company a loyal network of partners around the world. “A lot of people gravitate towards us because we understand what the buyer wants — action films that translate into every language and are easier to sell to territories,” says Fraser.

Perrier entered the picture in 2012. Fraser met the former Paramount Vantage and Odd Lot International senior executive at a dinner party in Monaco. Six months later they met again and decided to go into business.

“We have a great partnership — a fantastic understanding of each other and we trust each other,” says Perrier. She echoes Fraser’s belief that while female executive empowerment at Highland is a source of pride it does not inform a particular mission beyond supporting quality commercial fare.
The women have moved quickly on a slate that covers most genres. They spotted the talent of Margot Robbie in The Wolf Of Wall Street and signed her up more than a year ago to noir thriller Terminal before she became a household name with Suicide Squad.

Highland boarded Final Score starring Dave Bautista and Pierce Brosnan, which, thanks to producer Marc Goldberg at Signature, incorporated the partial demolition last autumn of Upton Park football stadium, the former home to English Premier League side West Ham United. Safe to say, the upcoming siege thriller is on the radar of UK filmgoers.

Mindful of the turbulence that continues to unsettle the film world, Fraser and Perrier are keen to diversify and take more control of content, not to mention a move into television. By reinvesting profits into projects, they remain deeply invested, in more than one sense of the word, in what they make.

In addition to production ambitions their goal is to move more aggressively into financing smart, appealing content. Hence the investment with Samuel Hadida’s Davis Films and Electric Shadow on The Crow Reborn, a reboot of 1994 cult classic The Crow that starred the late Brandon Lee.

The parties will finance, produce (with Ed Pressman) and distribute the film, and anticipate a production start towards the end of this year or early 2018. Highland says it will start talks with buyers at the EFM but the real push starts in Cannes once more elements have come together.

“We organically grew to a place that gave us the opportunity to become the rights holder of the source material, granting us more autonomy,” says Perrier. “We look forward to more of those opportunities.”

The Berlin sales slate includes The Last Draw Of Jack Of Hearts to star Josh Hartnett as a former black ops soldier left for dead who resurfaces to avenge a betrayal and reclaim the love of his life. Guy Moshe will direct from his own screenplay.

The project is one of several new titles in the pipeline as Highland responds to the challenges of economics, streaming giants and the draw of television with optimism and vigour. “We’re having to adjust and adapt to the realities of the markets and distribution models,” says Fraser. “But as long as we stay open-minded about what that means, there are smart ways to make movies.”

By Jeremy Kay, Screendaily.com

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The Pirates of the Caribbean star will topline the pic from Miscellaneous Entertainment and director Eric Bress and is set to shoot in March.

Brenton Thwaites is set to lead Ghosts of War.

The Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales star will topline the supernatural psychological thriller to be launched to international buyers at EFM in Berlin by the Highland Film Group.

The indie from Miscellaneous Entertainment is based on an original script by Eric Bress (The Butterfly Effect), who will also direct. Ghosts of War follows five battle-hardened American soldiers assigned to hold a French chateau near the end of World War II.

Thwaites will play Chris Goodson, a brilliant strategist plagued by battle fatigue. Miscellaneous Entertainment’s D. Todd Shepherd, Joe Simpson and Shelley Madison are producing and financing the project.

Adrian Jayasinha will executive produce. Highland will handle international sales, while CAA will shop North American rights.

By Ethan Vlessing, The Hollywood Reporter

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