Touchstone Pictures and Samuel Goldwyn Co. have agreed to team on the $ 15 million to $ 20 million co-production of director David Ward’s “The Program,” the second movie in a three-picture partnership between the two companies. Ward’s previous credits include “Major League” and “King Ralph.”

Written by “Urban Cowboy” and “Perfect” screenwriter Aaron Latham, “The Program” is set to start lensing in South Carolina on Nov. 16 and will be distributed domestically by Disney and internationally by Goldwyn.

The international/domestic distribution split mirrors the first movie produced under the Goldwyn and Touchstone partnership, which was put into gear in 1990 with the Bette Midler starrer “Stella”–a pic that grossed $ 20.1 million in domestic box office receipts.

Set to star in “The Program” is Craig Sheffer, who appears opposite Brad Pitt in Columbia’s current release “A River Runs Through It.” James Caan is reportedly the first choice to play the coach. Other casting is forthcoming.

“The Program” follows an incoming freshman and a quarterback in contention for the Heisman Trophy. Over the course of the college football season, the coach’s program puts itself above the needs of the players. Thematically, the football program becomes a metaphor for life.

Duncan Henderson will produce “The Program”; he was executive producer on 20 th Century Fox’s “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” co-producer on “Dying Young” and Touchstone’s “Green Card”; and associate producer on “Dead Poet’s Society.”

Set as executive producer of is Samuel Goldwyn Jr., who conceived the idea and hired Latham to develop the screenplay.

On the Disney side, the project has been shepherded by Touchstone Pix exec VP of production Donald DeLine and senior VP of production Adam Leipzig.

Charting a trend

The co-production between the two companies points up the continued trend by the major studios toward acquisitions and split financing in order to lower risk and feed distribution pipelines.

Goldwyn senior veepee and worldwide production chief Tom Rothman said Disney “is the exact right company” to handle domestic distribution of “The Program” because it will give the pic the kind of exposure that augments international deals.

“International … is strictly an A-title marketplace these days, very much driven off domestic success,” said Rothman, who added that international distributors will know from Disney distribution that they “have a big picture in the United States, which makes all the difference.”

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