Haynes ‘Safe’ pick for Playhouse

“Poison” helmer Todd Haynes has been set as director of the American Playhouse feature “Safe,” which stars Julianne Moore and Xander Berkeley and is set to go into production next month, sources said Thursday.

Haynes first popped onto the scene with “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story ,” the stop-motion animation cult favorite that used Barbie dolls instead of actors.

“Poison,” his first feature, won the grand jury prize at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival.

“Safe’s” budget is estimated between $ 1.75 million and $ 2 million.

“Safe” is about a Los Angeles housewife whose nice life in the suburbs is sabotaged when she contracts an illness from myriad foods, fragrances and fumes. In search of a cure, she goes to a desert community where she encounters “a dark web of emotions she never knew existed.”

American Playhouse took the movie out to financiers at the Cannes Film Festival. The company is financially partnered with Channel 4, Kardana Prods. and Arnold Semler on “Safe.” Producers are Christine Vachon (“Swoon”) and Lauren Zalaznick, while executive producers are Lindsay Law, James Schamus and Ted Hope.

Leading woman Moore appears opposite Matthew Modine in director Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts.” Her credits include “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,””The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag” and “Body of Evidence.”

“Safe” is the latest in a long line of highbrow American Playhouse features, which includes “Stand and Deliver,””Longtime Companion,””El Norte” and the James Spader/Mandy Patinkin starrer “The Music of Chance.”

The movie arm of Public Broadcasting Service, American Playhouse has recently stepped up its participation in production, including the Edward James Olmos/Sonia Braga/Maria Conchita Alonso starrer “Roosters,” the Matt Dillon/Joan Chen starrer “Golden Gate” and the Rutger Hauer/Kelly Lynch/Martha Plimpton starrer “The Beans of Egypt Maine.”

Typically, American Playhouse ponies up a fraction of the budget in exchange for first broadcast rights for PBS and equity participation in domestic theatrical and other ancillaries. For “Safe,” American Playhouse is putting up roughly 50% of the budget.

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