H’w’d, Cinergi team to option ‘Smoke’

Hollywood Pictures and Cinergi Prods. plunked down close to $ 500,000 to option first-timers’ Lee Batchler and Janet Scott Batchler’s adventure “Smoke and Mirrors.” Should the “Raiders of the Lost Ark”-style film be made, writers could realize around $ 1 million.

Sale is contingent on signing the right elements, in particular a male lead and director, say producers Bill Pace and Ronnie Clemmer (who co-produced “A League of Their Own”) of Longbow Prods.

A fall start is targeted for the period piece, with a production cost somewhere in the $ 40 million-to-$ 50 million area.

BV will distribute domestically and Cinergi will pre-sell foreign. Neither party was available for comment.

The name most bandied about for the lead is Sean Connery, but the character, based on French illusionist Houdin, is flexible enough age-wise to accommodate other names with international box office clout such as Michael Douglas, Mel Gibson or Kevin Costner, according to William Morris’ Alan Gasmer, who made the deal. (Gasmer also sold the play “The Twilight of the Golds” to Hollywood over the weekend. See separate story, page 1).

The usual suspects in the director category include seasoned actioners such as John McTiernan, Richard Donner, Wolfgang Peterson and Robert Zemeckis.

Swashbuckling script is based on a true story, says Gasmer. Houdin (from whom American escape artist Harry Houdini took his name) is sent by the French government to Morocco to expose a religious shaman who is provoking attacks on French colonials, according to Pace and Clemmer, who optioned the spec script last fall.

Husband-and-wife scripting team’s previous credits include “The Equalizer” episodes and several children’s videos.

Scripters say the sequel is built into the story.

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