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Fox goes to mat for ‘Mates’

Outbidding Paramount, 20th Century Fox has purchased John Hopkins’ script “Prime Mates” for producing partners Joe Wizan and Todd Black.

A family action comedy, the piece is about two young brothers living in a large, prestigious New York hotel, managed by their father and owned by a Leona Helmsley-type, who befriend an orangutan they discover in the bathroom’s heating vent.

The kids try to smuggle the ape — who has been trained to rip off jewelry from hotel guests — into the Central Park Zoo before he’s caught by their dad and put to sleep.

Sources said the purchase price for the script is approximately $ 575,000, of which Hopkins will get $ 250,000 upfront. Out of the remaining $ 325,000, the writer will receive an additional 25% cut and the producers will take 75%.

Wizan/Black will also reportedly receive a producing fee of $ 150,000 upfront against $ 750,000. Hopkins is also guaranteed a $ 250,000 bonus when and if the picture is made.

Wizan, who negotiated the deal, and Black, declined comment Thursday.

Hopkins’ agent, Writers & Artists’ Rima Greer, emphatically refused to confirm or deny figures and would only say, “We’re very happy.”

Greer originally went out with Hopkins’ script about a year ago and all of the studios passed. Wizan and Black saw potential in the material and optioned the property (reportedly for $ 10,000) based on liking the concept about a kid who’s raised by his hotel managing dad.

Hopkins was paid to completely rework the story, keeping that element in but adding in other key plot points in his rewrites, including the introduction of the orangutan (thus the new title).

Wizan/Black’s creative affairs VP Jason Blumenthal was responsible for working closely with Hopkins on the story changes over the course of he was rewriting.

The producers reportedly received delivery of the rewrite at the end of last week and went out to the studios over the weekend, which resulted in an auction between Fox and Paramount.

“Prime Mates,” which marks the first big script sale for the writer, could be the next go movie for Wizan and Black, whose latest outting, the Randa Haines-directed drama-comedy “Wrestling Ernest Hemingway,” starring Robert Duvall, Richard Harris, Shirley MacLaine, Piper Laurie and Sandra Bullock, will be released by Warner Bros. in October or November.

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