“Untamed Heart” partners Tony Bill and Helen Bartlett have formed Barnstorm Films and inked a two-year first-look deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, marking a newchapter in Bill’s longstanding friendship with studio co-chairman/co-CEO Alan Ladd Jr.
The respective director/producer duo already has several films in development as part of the new deal, including “Lily,” a Western take on “Romeo and Juliet,” being penned by Jeannine Dominy.
“Our mandate is to bring in movies to MGM that are of all scales — from big-budget to low-budget,” said Bill. The two hope to achieve numbers like their $ 7.5 million “Untamed,” which grossed in excess of $ 20 million Stateside.
The duo also want to continue working with newcomers and scour “non-Hollywood material”– everything from journals published in prisons to out-of-the-way newspapers — for potential story ideas.
“I’ve always been attracted to scripts written by unknown writers,” said Bill. “Admittedly, part of the reason is financial: They’re cheaper to acquire. But to discover the brilliance of a David Ward (“The Sting”) or a Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver”) or a John PatrickShanley (“Five Corners”) — that to me is quite satisfying.”
Barnstorm has commissioned Tom Sierchio — who was a delivery boy for Vendome Liquors until he scripted “Untamed”– to write a new “romantic comedy involving in-laws,” Bill said.
“Jewel of the Nile” scripter Larry Donner will exec produce with Barnstorm and is involved with the development of the script.
Budgets for both the comedy and “Lily” will depend on casting.
Meanwhile, the tale behind the acquisition of “Lily” delineates the Bill/Bartlett/Barnstorm gestalt.
“Lily,” penned by first-time novelist Cindy Bonner, was published by specialty house Algonquin Press but went unnoticed by Hollywood — until Bartlett optioned the book for the former Tony Bill Prods., where she’d worked as director of development since 1985.
“Lily” is about a girl from a good family who falls in love with a guy from a family of troublemakers. They become star-crossed lovers.
“The publishing world,” said Bartlett, “is way ahead of the movie business in the area of gender. Women writers are seen now as the mainstay of the publishing industry, certainly in fiction. The film world is slow to pick up on this.” She wants a female helmer for “Lily.”
Bill was an actor in the ’60s (“Come Blow Your Horn”), and said he quit because he hated the “lack of anonymity.” The outspoken director also dislikes movies that don’t evoke emotion. “I’m partial to what I call ‘actor movies.’ I make films about people whom I believe the audience will care about.”
Bill directed the upcoming “A Home of Our Own,” starring Kathy Bates as a single mother with six children, which also fits the bill. (Pic is prior to the MGM deal; Gramercy Pictures releases the film Oct. 15.)
Also outside the MGM deal, Bill will exec produce a pic he co-authored with Ben Mason, “Ocean of Storms,” which Warren Beatty produces and will star in. “It’s a love story in the astronaut program,” Bill explained.