Caravan to produce ‘Musketeers’

Joe Roth’s new indie company Caravan Pictures has replaced Jon Avnet and Jordan Kerner as producers on director Stephen Herek’s movie “The Three Musketeers,” which Disney plans to’Significant Other’ rush into production in mid-April for a Thanksgiving release.

While Avnet and Kerner will remain as executive producers on “Three Musketeers,” they have now been attached to produce Touchstone’s long-in-the-works “Significant Other,” which has been revitalized with director Luis Mandoki and with Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan in the lead roles once intended for Tom Hanks and Debra Winger.

With Roth and his producing partner Roger Birnbaum now assuming the “Musketeers” reins, the race to the screen of competing remakes of the Alexandre Dumas classic has heated up even more.

In November, to get the jump on Disney, TriStar made a deal with Jeremiah Chechik to direct that studio’s remake based on Joel Gross’ script (Daily Variety, Nov. 24, 1991).

Yesterday, TriStar chairman Mike Medavoy said he’s targeting a late March start for the picture, which is to be produced by Allyn Stewart.

While neither the Disney nor TriStar projects is cast yet, sources say Roth was essentially brought aboard to achieve that goal as quickly as possible. He’s expected to procure the same kind of hot young talent that he did for the “Young Guns” series released by Fox, made by his former partner Jim Robinson at Morgan Creek Prods.

On Tuesday, Roth and Birnbaum put offers out to actors on David Loughery’s screen adaptation of “Musketeers,” a move that sources said irked Medavoy, who’s concerned about being beat to the punch by Disney.

Disney was first out of the gate recently with Stephen Sommers’ “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” movie, which will be released in March. At the time Disney put its casting in place with Elijah Wood as the hell-raising runaway, an angered Medavoy referred to Disney’s planned production as “a cheapo TV-like version” (Daily Variety, June 25, 1992).

Of the “Musketeers” race with Disney, Medavoy said yesterday, “They don’t have a very good script, apparently. We’re going to make ours and we’re starting at the end of March. We’re doing the same thing Disney is doing, which is to make offers to actors. … We’re going to do that today (Wednesday).”

Roth, who refused to engage in a discussion about competing projects — which include TriStar’s, Jon Peters’ version at Columbia Pix and Vision Intl.’s “D’Artagnan”– would only say: “Our script is out there and we expect to have this picture principally cast and all the parts filled within the next week.”

Roth has brought in production designer Wolf Kroeger, with whom he worked on the Daniel Day-Lewis period vehicle “The Last of the Mohicans” during his turn as head of Fox. Kroeger, said Roth, is now in Vienna (the first location) to begin pre-production on “Three Musketeers.”

Roth reportedly has been working quietly on putting “Musketeers” in place for the past six weeks, quickly getting Disney to sign off on the script and budget.

Neither Roth nor Medavoy is a stranger to coming up on the short end of the competition stick. Each lost out on his respective “Robin Hood” movie when Morgan Creek Prods./Warner Bros. set Kevin Costner in the starring role and got its version off the ground.

Roth said he and Birnbaum have always been interested in the “Three Musketeers” project, having bid against Disney last April for Loughery’s spec script.

Andy Vajna’s Cinergi Prods. was to be the original producer of “Three Musketeers” when Disney acquired the script last April for $ 650,000 against $ 850,000 (Daily Variety, April 27).

Touchstone/Disney prexy David Hoberman explained that when the studio and Vajna differed over casting, development and timing for the project, Cinergi bowed out and subsequently Avnet/Kerner were brought in following the success of their Disney production “The Mighty Ducks.”

Regarding the swap of Avnet/Kerner from “Musketeers” to “Significant Other” and from Avnet/Kerner to Roth/Birnbaum on “Musketeers,” Hoberman said, “When both of these movies started coming together, frankly I thought the casting of producers would be better if they were switched, particularly given the history of Jon and Jordan’s work and the fact that this (‘Musketeers’) was a project that Joe and Roger had also bid on at Fox.”

Avnet said there is no acrimony with Disney over the switch, but rather he views it as “an abundance of riches. … Disney offered us the opportunity to work on ‘Significant Other’–a very challenging project.”

Almost simultaneous with “Three Musketeers,” Roth and Birnbaum will begin production with Larry Brezner on “Angie, I Says,” starring Geena Davis, and likely to be directed by Martha Coolidge.

Roth said he is meeting with Coolidge today to discuss a start date, which he anticipates will be around March or April. The mandate of Caravan Pictures, Roth reminded, is to make five movies a year for Disney’s distribution arm Buena Vista, “so there’s bound to be some overlap.”

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