De Laurentiis wont take ‘Milk’ sale lying down

DINO AIN’T GONNA TAKE IT: Attorneys for Dino De Laurentiis Communications fired off a letter toWriters & Artists Agency yesterday, threatening litigation over the sale of John Mattson’s spec script “Milk Money” to Paramount last Thursday. In a letter drafted by lawyer Tom Lambert of Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp, DDLC claims it had entered a “valid, binding and enforceable contract” in which the writer agreed to sell the company his rights to the screenplay.

DDLC is alleging that on Thursday morning, it made a $ 1 million preemptive bid to take the script off the market, which was accepted. Several hours later, DDLC learned the property had instead been sold to Paramount for a mere $ 100, 000 more.

DDLC, in its letter, demands that Mattson execute the Nov. 12 purchase and writing agreement, which the company delivered to the agency on Friday for his execution.

If the fully executed contract is not signed and immediately returned, DDLC said, the company will take legal action against the writer and is prepared to commence litigation against the agency and agent Rima Greer “seeking compensatory and punitive damages for fraud and misrepresentation.”

DDLC’s prexy Stephen Deutch says he’s personally stung by the incident, since he was the principal in all of the pertinent conversations. “In a negotiation between an executive and an agent, we all rely on the integrity of our commitments. We made a preemptive offer and it was accepted. The deal was closed and the property was taken off the market. We received several congratulatory messages from studios that had been informed– not by us–that we had purchased the property. Then without notice or warning, several hours later, we were informed the script was sold again to Paramount.”

After learning of the script sale, Deutch and De Laurentiis placed a courtesy call to new Paramount movie chief Sherry Lansing telling her they believe DDLC owns the script and that the company intends to pursue legal action against the agency and writer.

Contacted about the matter yesterday, Greer insisted: “We categorically dispute that any deal was closed with DDLC, and they are aware of it.”

ROBIN HOOD’ BUDS WILL RETEAM AFTER ALL: DISH hears that the on-again off-again Kevin Costner-Kevin Reynolds movie project “Waterworld” is back on track at Universal.

The picture, however, is at least a year away from lensing since the production requires another rewrite, lots of prepping and complicated location logistics, etc.

Creative Artist Agency officials have been in extensive negotiations with Universal for the past month or so to get the project back in gear. The big-budgeted Largo Entertainment futuristic adventure pic was originally talked about this past summer as one of two movies Costner was considering starring in for the studio, the other being Lawrence Kasdan’s “Pair-A-Dice.” But Costner withdrew from negotiations for the two-pic deal because Universal had been dragging its feet about the high cost of both movies.

MORE IMMEDIATELY: Costner also is negotiating to star in Baltimore Pix’ “A Perfect World” at Warner Bros., expected to go in March, presumably under the direction of Clint Eastwood if his deal gets done as expected. Scripted by John Lee Hancock, the story concerns a young boy who’s abducted by a convict.

MEANWHILE, IN BALTIMORE: Barry Levinson’s producer partner Mark Johnson flatly denied heated rumors yesterday that all or many of Baltimore Pic’s nine staffers were pinkslipped late last week and told they have until the end of the month to find other work.

Johnson, saying, “No one has been let go,” noted that he held a meeting with staffers strictly to tell them “something exciting was happening but we can’t tell you what” and to “warn them” that “there’s uncertainty about who’s going to be writing their paychecks … so everyone’s position is up in the air.”

TriStar has been paying the indie’s hefty overhead on a month-by-month basis ever since Baltimore’s housekeeping deal with the studio expired at the end of last year. But that deal ends Nov. 30, and Baltimore will have to secure a new arrangement. Speculation in town ranges from previous reports that Baltimore may be planning to merge with Sydney Pollack’s Mirage Prods., or new speculation that the indie will make an overall deal at WB, where in addition to “Perfect World” the company is developing another project.

Last week, following the completion of “Toys” at Fox, Baltimore moved its headquarters to Santa Monica-based Cinergi Prods.

“It’s a very exciting time for us, but the question is where we’re going to be and who’s going to be writing the paychecks,” Johnson said he informed his staff, insisting, “We couldn’t be healthier.” In addition to “Perfect World” and Levinson’s yet-to-be-decided next directorial outing, Baltimore has two planned spring productions, “Quiz Show” at TriStar and “Waco’s Convenience,” to be directed by first-timer Vince Gilligan (who wrote Baltimore’s “Wilder Napalm”).

ENVIABLE POSITION, EH? Recently upped New Line Prods. executive VP Michael De Luca has found himself in the unique position of actually being able to greenlight his own movie. A $ 1.5 million pay-or-play deal is about to close with John Carpenter to direct De Luca’s script “In the Mouth of Madness,” a$ 6 million to $ 8 million production targeted to begin next spring.

De Luca described “Mouth of Madness” as an “upscale horror” film, along the lines of “Jacob’s Ladder,” about an insurance investigator who goes looking for a missing horror novelist and discovers everything the guy was writing about was based on truth, not fiction.

The young scribe/exec, whose only produced screenplay was New Line’s “Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare,” said “Mouth” was the first script he ever wrote. He’s been fiddling with it since 1988 (“It’s almost been like therapy”) and he credits New Line boss Bob Shaye for “encouraging my writing and letting me do both things.” De Luca added that he’s “still in shock that I have a shot at this. … I think John is the best director in this genre and I’m so grateful my script got his attention.”

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