Confident that the merger mania in the entertainment biz and the Credit Lyonnais-backed $ 960 million debt restructuring have bolstered the value of the new MGM/UA, studio chairman/CEO Frank G. Mancuso’s team has unveiled its twin-banner, 20-pic slate.

Top-drawer names like Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg have signed on for MGM’s new lineup, while Louis Malle, Robert Duvall, Walter Hill and Geena Davis are behind separate UA titles.

Yet even as the medium-size, high-concept pix are moving swiftly into the packaging stage, superstar thesps remain conspicuously absent from committed positions. But many firm offers are on the table.

At a press meeting Dec. 8, Mancuso dismissed the conventional wisdom that stars make studios. “Our films for both slates are more project- and content-based,” he said.

In a parallel exec move that illustrates Mancuso’s aggressiveness with his new slate, ex-Miramax marketing topper Gerry Rich will assume duties as exec marketing VP on Dec. 13 — two weeks earlier than previously thought.

As previously reported, marketing and distrib prexy Ashley Boone is expected to ankle by the end of the year. For the moment, Mancuso said, other related positions would not be affected.

Tune-up skedded

After the release of the remaining five MGM films slated during the Alan Ladd Jr. regime, there will be a rollout hiatus between New Year’s and April to oil the releasing, marketing and distrib machine and create a new studio image, Mancuso said.

While some of the studio’s new films will be co-financed by such well-coffered output partners as Polygram, Mancuso said, “Fundamentally, our feeling is that we should put up all the production funds ourselves.”. But even if the next few years turn out to be a long, hard climb for equity, Mancuso pointed to the converging dynamics of the last few months as a positive fiscal indicator.

“Look at what’s happened in the marketplace recently with Paramount, QVC,Cox, Southwestern Bell, Nynex and the rest of them,” Mancuso said, explaining why “the asset-based value of this company has gone up and the value of the general assets of our 1,700-titled library has gone up.”

None of the execs would comment on whether MGM/UA is positioning itself to be snapped up by a telco.

The reborn MGM/UA recently unloaded about $ 960 million on another division of its parent company, the French bank Credit Lyonnais. That debt will remain at the old MGM company and thus not affect the balance sheet of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

Cash flow coup

Credit Lyonnais previously announced that $ 400 million has been made available to aid Mancuso’s slate until the bank must hand off controlling interest in the studio by 1997.

MGM prexy Mike Marcus’ team has been able to put together several projects in the four months since Ladd left the studio.

“Species” is a sci-fi actioner about a lab-created femme being who escapes and kills whatever gets in her way. Roger Donaldson is the front-runner to helm “Species.” Producers are Dennis Feldman, who wrote it, and Frank Mancuso Jr.

“A Walk in the Clouds” is a romantic comedy that Alfonse Arau will helm for producer Jerry Zucker from Robert Kamen’s script. No cast has been announced.

“Domestic Life” is taking shape under the aegis of Spielberg: Based on Paula Webb’s novel about a woman’s tumultuous love life as she tumbles into a second relationship after her just-ended marriage, the project was penned for the screen by “Big” writer Anne Spielberg. The studio is betting that it will be a flagship production with a big star.

Property prepped

“The Day After Tomorrow” is an actioner based on the still unpublished novel by Allan R. Folsom about a U.S. doctor who travels to France on business but gets involved in a neo-Nazi conspiracy. Folsom adapts for the screen; Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck produce.

“Gino’s Finger” is a female mob comedy, which Richard Chapman and E. Jack Kaplan wrote, to be helmed by Jonathan Lynn. No cast has been announced.

“Call Me a Cop” will be helmed by John Landis and produced by Rosalie Swedlin and David Gerber. The story is about gangsters who move into an abandoned police precinct to prepare for their next job. To make it look legit, they dress as cops, but find that the role — and the neighborhood — grows on them.

Bette Midler will star in the comedy “Queen of the Boiler Room” by “Wiseguy” author Nick Pileggi. Bonnie Bruckheimer is set to produce the pic, which is in early stages.

Ron Bass is writing “What Dreams May Come” with Steven Deutsch as producer.

UA awakens

At Calley’s UA, the development pile is 45 titles high, out of which 10 are being prepped to go starting in January.

The typical budget for each film, Calley said, will be around $ 25 million-$ 28 million.

The likeliest first-out UA candidate is the high-concept computer drama “Hackers,” which Calley described as “a smaller, younger ‘War Games.’ “

Currently being packaged with a director and a largely unknown teen cast, this pic will likely be done with a medium budget and could be before cameras right after New Year’s.

Michael Peyser and Janet Graham will produce “Hackers” from Rafael Moreau’s script.

Gere/Pfeiffer

The previously announced “Higgins & Beech”– starring Richard Gere and Michelle Pfeiffer — is UA’s anticipated B.O. trump card in the startup phase.

Scouting teams are in China to find appropriate locations.

Another low-to-medium budget project set up at UA is the romancer “Martine,” about a love triangle, which will be helmed by “Joy Luck Club” director Wayne Wang. Andy Garcia is considering the lead.

Louis Malle is attached to the UA project “Dietrich.” The pic is a look at a period in the life of German screen diva Marlene Dietrich. “Six Degress of Separation” playwright/screenwriter John Guare is set to adapt from the book by Dietrich’s daughter Maria Riva.

UA toppers said helmer Walter Hill is committed to the Western “Wild Bill Hickock,” which Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck will produce starting as early as January.

Another high-concept UA package is the low-to-mid-budget actioner “Tank Girl, ” which is described as a “Mad Max”-type vehicle.

UA’s ‘Tank’

“Tank,” which likely will topline an unknown femme thesp, will be helmed by Rachel Talalay and produced by Trilogy Entertainment’s John Watson, Pen Densham and Richard Lewis.

Other UA projects in the development bag include an untitled drama that Calley bought as a pitch in November after Warner Bros. passed. Written by Billy Bob Thornton (“One False Move”) and Tom Epperson, the project has attracted Robert Duvall, Randa Haines and Todd Black to produce the story of a redneck whose life turns topsy-turvy after he finds out he is part black; he then sets out to find his black half-brother. Duvall is considering the lead part.

“Mavis” is a Nancy Abramson-penned comedy in which a single mother tries to secure her daughter’s future by telling a libidinous politician that her kid is really his illegitimate daughter, banking that the pol is too unsure of his prolific sexual record to refuse her money.

Fanny Levy and Geena Davis are set to produce “Mavis.”

“Cliffhanger” scripter Michael France is working on a first draft for the 17 th James Bond pic for producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

Susan Arnold and Donna Roth will produce screenwriter Frank Galati’s script “Summer Gloves,” a story about three Dixie beauties who have all participated in the local beauty pageant. The pic is based on the book by Sarah Gilbert.

“Edge of Eden,” scripted by Ron Bass from a book by former Vietnam correspondent Nicholas Proffitt, is out to directors. “Edge” is an action-adventure set in colonial Africa.

Love in the Big Top

“The Spider and the Prince,” penned by “Benny & Joon” screenwriter Barry Berman, is also out to helmers. It is about two circus performers who fall in love despite fierce competitiveness under the big top.

In more preliminary development stages is “Pomona Queen,” a dark comedy that puts a meek traveling salesman and a hard-boiled biker on the road together, based on a book by Kem Nunn. Jeremiah Chechik will direct from a screenplay by W.D. Richter for producers Midge Sanford and Sarah Pillsbury.

Another UA title is “Shadow Over Babylon,” an actioner set in the Middle East , produced by Broccoli and written by Jim Carabatsos.

Calley also mentioned an untitled project that tells the story of a year in the life of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who took a gig teaching at a university to renew himself.

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