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Universal Snags Further Bourne Rights

Universal Pictures has made an overall deal with Ludlum Ent., the estate in charge of THE BOURNE IDENTITY author Robert Ludlum, per VARIETY. The deal gives the studio exclusive rights to the Jason Bourne character and a first look at all other Ludlum novels.

Ludlum Ent. chairman and CEO Jeffrey Weiner will take offices on the Universal lot and hire development execs. He will have an active hand in developing projects, including some not based on Ludlum's books. Weiner was Ludlum's accountant for 16 years before he was asked by the late author to be estate executor and run the holding company that produces his movies and publishes his books and videogames.

The Bourne saga was originally envisioned as a three-picture series, but the films have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide and become Universal's answer to James Bond.

Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass are signed for a fourth film scheduled for a summer 2010 release. George Nolfi is writing the screenplay, and the film will be produced by Frank Marshall and Weiner.

"Universal has done such an excellent job with the first three films that they deserve the opportunity to keep Jason Bourne at the studio forever," Weiner told VARIETY.

The deal, put together by Universal co-president of production Jimmy Horowitz and president of production Donna Langley, gives the studio the inside track on other Ludlum books. The author's titles routinely turn into seven-figure packages, and Universal's chairman March Shmuger and co-chairman David Linde have a priority in franchises.

Ludlum Cold War thriller THE MATARESE CIRCLE was snapped up by MGM and Relativity in April with Denzel Washington and WANTED writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas attached and director David Cronenberg to direct a film slated to begin production next year. Universal lost that auction, and also lost in 2005 THE CHANCELLOR MANUSCRIPT to Paramount with Leonardo DiCaprio attached to star.

Other than the fourth BOURNE, Universal is working on Ludlum novel THE SIGMA PROTOCOL with Strike Ent. partners Marc Abraham and Eric Newman. Summit Ent., on the other hand, has THE OSTERMAN WEEKEND with Simon Kinberg to write and direct.

Ludlum, a prolific writer who died in 2001 as THE BOURNE IDENTITY was in production, has more than 25 novels that haven't been turned into films yet, Weiner said. Titles turned into movies in the 1980s underwhelmed Ludlum, so now the estate has contractual approval on screenplays, characters and even actors.

"The goal is to pick the right people to be in business with, so you don't have to wield these things like a club," Weiner said. "If you get to that point, you're in business with the wrong people."