W-T unveils prod’n slate

This article was corrected on November 23, 1992. The director of the Witt-Thomas Films project “Man-Plus” was misidentified in Thursday’s paper. The film will be directed by Deran Sarafian.

Witt-Thomas Films has unreeled its first production slate for ’93 and beyond under its new deal with Warner Bros., with projects ranging from Voltaire’s “Candide” to “Wicked Ways,” a co-production with Amblin Entertainment.

Ten of the projects on the indie’s slate rest with WB. Two are at Witt-Thomas’ former haunt, Disney, while the other four are scattered among other studios.

Witt-Thomas jumped to its three-year, first-look deal at WB in July when it failed to reach agreeable terms on a new contract with Disney (Daily Variety, March 23). The bulk of the projects Witt-Thomas plans to do are derived from books. Nearly all are in various writing stages now.

“The budgets on these projects are really all over the map, from $ 4 million to $ 40 million,” said company president Stuart Oken. “What we’re trying to do with these projects is build a family of artists. We hope the ones connected with these projects have such a good experience that the family builds from word of mouth.”

Paul Junger Witt–who is in partnership with Tony Thomas in the film company– hopes to begin production on the first project within six months. Ideally he hopes the indie can produce three or more pix a year.

And, he hopes to cull more writers from highly prolific network television arm Witt-Thomas-Harris Prods., in which he is partnered with his wife Susan Harris as well as Thomas to produce such hits as “Empty Nest” and “Golden Girls.”

The first project Witt-Thomas plans to undertake is Nora Ephron’s adaptation of the French film “Le Pere Noel Est Une Ordure” (The Night Before Xmas). Ephron (“This is My Life,””Sleepless in Seattle”) is set to direct the screenplay she co-wrote with her sister Delia. The project, which Oken hopes to begin in April, is not attached to a studio.

It is the tale of how chaos breeds romance at a struggling suicide prevention center during Christmas. The budget will probably fall somewhere in the $ 15 million range.

Projects to follow will undoubtedly be those for WB. Among them:

  • A remake of the 1950 Ealing comedy “The Man in the White Suit,” about a scientist who discovers a cure for the common cold and incurs the wrath of pharmaceutical companies, political power groups and organized labor. The script , by Charlie Peters (“Three Men and a Little Lady,””Passed Away”), is now being revised. Budget is targeted in the mid-$ 20 million range.

  • “Candide,” with Michael Lehman (“Heathers”) directing and Larry Gross (“48 Hours”) writing the screen adaptation of Voltaire’scomedic classic. It spins around a man in Europe whose struggle to be with his lover is marred by constant turmoil. The first draft is being revised on the estimated $ 15 million project.

  • “Wicked Ways,” a co-production with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin for WB. The original screenplay by Tedi Sarafian is the story of an orphaned Park Avenue brat who manages a startling transformation into a daredevil trapeze artist and is sent to live with his eccentric uncle in a traveling circus.

  • “Man-Plus,” based on the novel by science fiction writer Frederik Phol about NASA building a genetically altered man to live on Mars. But as the creation becomes more human emotionally, his physical characteristics become less so. Tedi Sarafian will direct.

  • “The Storm Chaser”– expected to be Witt-Thomas’ most expensive effort — is the tale of a tornado-chaser who is convinced nature has bombarded a high-tech factory town with deadly storms following misguided genetic experimentation. Michael Lessac (“House of Cards”) will direct.

  • “Broken Circle,” Floyd Byarsadaptation of Rod Barker’s non-fiction book about a New Mexican officer investigating grisly murders of native Americans by white high school kids. Oken expects the $ 10 million pic to be released in ’94.

  • “Romeo’s Girl,” helmer Diane Keaton’s anticipated $ 10 million romantic comedy about an overprotected teenager who blossoms after dealing with her charismatic uncle.

  • “The Goldin Boys,” Joseph Epstein’s adaptation of his book for the screen. Story’s about a doctor reflecting back to his high school days when a powerful Chicago family brought him together with his wife. The $ 10 million pic is tentatively set for early ’95.

Other proposed WB pix are: Robert McCammon’s “Gone South” (Daily Variety, Oct. 2) and Nick Bantock’s trilogy “Griffin & Sabine” (Daily Variety, Sept. 11).

For TriStar, Witt-Thomas plans to produce “Hertzog,” penned by Gill Dennis and Marc Norman (“Shakespeare in Love”), to be directed by Jon Amiel. Story is about a dictator who becomes a political liability and the U.S. government hires a former leftist revolutionary to stage a coup and replace him.

One of the smaller pix is “The Gardener,” a$ 3 million project about a hardworking East L.A. gardener forced into a struggle after his truck is stolen. Luis Valdez (“La Bamba”) will direct the screenplay by Roger Simon and Cheech Marin, who also stars. Like Ephron’s project, “Gardener” is not attached to a studio yet.

The two pending Disney projects include the “The Borribles” and “Judgment Call,” both expected to cost about $ 20 million.

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