The true-life story which inspired the classic novel Moby Dick is the first project in an exclusive first-look deal announced on Friday between uber-indie Intermedia and Barry Levinson and Paula Weinstein's US production outfit Baltimore/Spring Creek Pictures.

The partners are working on an adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick's National Book Award-winner, In The Heart Of The Sea, an epic story of one of the most notorious maritime disasters of the 19th century. Under the two-year deal, which takes effect immediately, Frankfurt-listed Intermedia will finance development on Levinson and Weinstein's projects, control the copyrights of the films and handle worldwide distribution.

It is unclear whether Levinson will direct the adaptation - his credits range from directing Sphere, Wag The Dog and Sleepers to executive producing The Perfect Storm through Baltimore/Spring Creek. Currently, he is directing Bandits, a comedy starring Bruce Willis, Cate Blanchett and Billy Bob Thornton, for Hyde Park Entertainment and MGM.

He is also producing Neil LaBute's Possession, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Recent directing credits include An Everlasting Piece, a comedy set in 80s Belfast.

Heart Of The Sea examines the 19th century whaling industry through the sinking of the whale-ship Essex by a sperm whale. Philbrick, an academic, used a survivor's diary, discovered in an attic in Connecticut in 1998, to tell the story of the 20 sailors who survived.

Taking to three small boats, the shipmates were attacked again by the whale. Only eight of them survived being stranded at sea for three months - after resorting to cannibalism.

The first-look deal is further evidence of Intermedia's financial clout since floating in Germany in May as Internationalmedia. The sales and financing outfit founded by Guy East and Nigel Sinclair last year struck a long-term agreement with leading US producer Mark Johnson, along with a host of pacts with other outfits.