Dish: Par grabs Baltimore

Barry Levinson and Mark Johnson are making a new overall deal at Warner Bros. — NOT!!!

While the guys were also in serious talks about such an arrangement with WB, they’ve instead signed their Baltimore Pictures to a three-year, non-exclusive first-look deal at Paramount. Levinson’s next directorial outing is part of the package.

The picture — the contents of which Paramount is keeping under close wraps — is a super-low-budget comedy MDBOin the vein of “Tin Man” that Levinson will direct from his own original script. Joe Pesci’s name is being bandied about as one of the possible leadMDBOs in this now untitled movie.

Johnson said he and Levinson expect to begin production in August in Hollywood, where the story is set, and will finance the film independently and distribute through Paramount via a negative pickup deal.

The filmmaking partners have set up temporary offices across the street from Paramount at Raleigh Studios until they can permanently move onto the lot.

So as to not to rub it in WB’s face, Johnson and Levinson originally instructed Paramount not to put out a press release or generate any publicity about their new deal.

But Johnson changed his mind midday and decided to talk.MDUL He acknowledged that while he and Levinson never signed on at WB, “everyone assumed we had because we have so many projects there.”

Sources speculate that Paramount gave the guys a much richer deal than WB was willing to shoulder, since the Melrose Avenue studio “is very hungry for these types of deals and Warner Bros. has so many,” said one studio insider.

Sources at both studios say Par movie topper Sherry Lansing — who along with her boss and former producing partner Stanley Jaffe has long been a big fan of the filmmaking duo — aggressively went after the deal.

But WB hardly comes out the loser on this. It saves itself a ton of overhead and still has dibs on a handful of movies from Baltimore.

In addition to its MDULApril 29 start of “A Perfect World,” the Kevin Costner starrer written by John Lee Hancock that Clint Eastwood is directing, the indie company has several other projects at WB, including Paul Attanasio’s biopic “The Bobby Darin Story,” Vince Gilligan’s “Home Fries” and a movie based on the love affair between Amelia Earhart and publisher George Putnam.MDBO

It’s unclear where Johnson and Levinson will set up “The Little Princess,” based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic 1905 book. They just got the project out of turnaround from Disney. “The Fisher King” scribe Richard LaGravenese has written a modernized version that reportedly was submitted to Paramount last weekend.

But a WB source insisted Monday, “The project is definitely here, we’re buying it for them.”

Johnson simply said, “We’re going to have conversations with both studios.”

Considered one of her most “beloved” films, Shirley Temple starred in Fox’s original movie version of “The Little Princess” back in 1939. The musical, set in Victorian England, is about a pampered little girl whose world collapses after she is sent to a harsh boarding school when her father goes off to war.

DANSON COURTED TO PLAY superkid’s pop: MGM has an offer out to Ted Danson to star opposite $ 8 million superkid Macaulay Culkin in Howard Deutch’s comedy “Getting Even With Dad,” about a precocious 12-year-old who blackmails his ex-con father into walking the straight and narrow. Sources close to Danson said he is seriously considering the role but hasn’t committed.

HUANG SEQUEL: Things are moving ahead for budding writer-director George Huang.

The former assistant to Columbia exec Barry Josephson signed on Monday with the William Morris Agency to help him set up “To Protect and Serve”– about an underling who wreaks revenge on his abusive studio boss — at a movie company.

Huang also met with ICM and UTA but said he went with the Morris office because of the agents’ “aggressiveness and that everyone there was really excited about the project.” New recent Morris hire Dave Phillips, who along with associate Jonathan Sheinberg signed Huang, said there are three interested parties in “Protect and Serve,” though a deal is not in hand.

Huang met last week with a Touchstone executive, who has read the script and suggested certain changes and discussed using his discretionary fund money to push the project forward if a rewrite met with his liking.

As reported, Joel Silver, for whose company Huang used to work when Josephson was there, also met with the former assistant and told him he would be interested in helping him get his movie made if he could be absolutely assured the main character was not based on him.

BLUES WUNDERKIND LANDS MOVIE DEAL: Indie producer David Permut and New Line have signed highly sought 10-year-old Australian blues guitarist Nathan Cavaleri to a one-picture deal. Modeling himself after his idol, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, Cavaleri has played with such popular musicians as Jeff Baxter of the Doobie Brothers, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and John Entwistle of the Who.

Hollywood agent Suzanne Costello, at Paradigm, saw the young musical wiz on “The Arsenio Hall Show” in January and immediately went into action, circulating a videotape of Cavaleri around town. Early last month, she brought him to Hollywood for a round of meetings with various producers and studio exex at Fox, Disney, MGM, TriStar, Amblin, Interscope and Michael Jackson’s Nation Films.

But Costello said it was Permut and his VP Kevin Messick who were the most “relentless.”

Peter Lenkov conceived the movie idea for Cavaleri about an aging rock band on its last tour that hires, sight unseen, a guitarist as a last-minute fill-in. The guitarist turns out to be a 10-year-old kid who changes their fortunes and sends them back to the top of the charts.

FOX BUYS COP SCHOOL PITCH: 20th Century Fox has paid $ 300,000 against $ 675, 000 for a pitch by Murray Salem (“Kindergarten Cop”) called “Detective School” for Robert Lawrence to produce. The piece, which Hollywood Pix, Columbia, TriStar and WB were also said to be considering, is about three secretaries who enroll in detective school and stumble onto a big case and become heroes.

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