Imagine blasts off in pursuit of ‘Moon’ book

IMAGINE SHOOTS THE MOON: In an intense bidding war that ignited early Friday and orbited late into the night, Imagine Films/Universal optioned a 53-page book proposal, “Lost Moon,” about the near-disastrous 1970 Apollo 13 moon mission. The project was co-penned by astronaut James A. Lovell Jr. (who was part of the crew) and Jeffrey Kluger. Imagine co-pilot Ron Howard is reportedly hot to direct this one.

DISH hears that with Malibu-based partner Brian Grazer on the line, Howard placed a Friday midnight call from Connecticut to William Morris lit agents Amy Schiffman and Mike Sheresky to seal the deal. While no one on any side of the planet will talk, sources indicated the value of the package is $ 150,000, against a potential backend of $ 700,000, if all options are exercised, the forthcoming book becomes a best-seller and the movie goes.

There was a jetstream of competition for the property from producer Ray Stark , who reportedly was prepared to pay out of his own discretionary fund, and Paramount, which threw in a bid for producers Kevin McCormick and Tina Nides. Producer Arnold Kopelson reportedly was strenuously attempting to attach a major male star and get Warner Bros. fired up, but he couldn’t get either mission off the launch pad in time.

The William Morris crew supposedly received a flood of calls Monday morning from disappointed producers who missed out on the property, which the authors are to deliver to New York publisher Houghton-Miflin next January. Sources said Imagine doesn’t plan to wait until the book is completed before it commissions a screenplay.

Rather, the indie reportedly will hire scripters to pick the brains of authors Lovell and Kluger as they write. Lovell, who’s handled by the Morris Agency, and Kluger, represented by New York indie lit agent Joy Harris, will serve as consultants on the movie. Lovell was commander of the three-man crew aboard Apollo 13 — the third manned moon launch — when the capsule had a sudden, minor explosion just outside the earth’s orbit that caused it to lose power and oxygen. In a triumphant move to prevent a near-disaster, NASA had to quickly put an emergency plan into action to guide Apollo back to safety and save the ship from its would-be fate of eternal orbit around the earth.

A BUDDING THESPIAN? Director Sydney Pollack has asked producer Jerry Weintraub–surprisingly one of his long-ago acting students–to play a role in his now-lensing Paramount movie “The Firm,” starring Tom Cruise. One source close to the production said Weintraub has read for the part of Sonny Capps–a big client of the firm where Cruise works–and, as a favor to Pollack, will most likely do the gig toward the end of the shooting schedule in March when the production moves to the Cayman Islands.

JW reportedly has one big scene, in which he discusses a tax shelter deal with Cruise and his mentor, Avery, played by Gene Hackman.

Many moons ago, Pollack was an acting teacher at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York when Weintraub studied there briefly, though apparently the producer never had any serious before-the-camera aspirations.

WILL HOLLYWOOD GO FOR ‘THE GOLDS?’ Young playwright Jonathan Tolins’ new work “The Twilight of the Golds” is not only drawing good reviews and sold-out crowds at the Pasadena Playhouse, it’s also attracting a healthy dose of interest from Hollywood players.

However, the big question is whether this provocative, seemingly hard-sell vehicle will launch the 26-year-old transplanted New York playwright’s long-hoped-for movie career. A number of producers have gone to see the play and supposedly initiated discussions with their respective studios. Tolins, represented by William Morris agent Alan Gasmer, said yesterday, “I hear there are a lot of phone calls being made–now it’s a matter of figuring out who’s going to have the guts to make it.”

The moral dilemma comedy/drama centers on a tight-knit Jewish family in New York whose relationships and personal values are put to the test when, through the miracle of modern genetic science, it’s discovered that newly pregnant daughter Suzanne and son-in-law Rob are having a baby who will most likely be gay. Suzanne’s gay, pro-choice brother David is appalled to learn that his own family is considering an abortion.

Tolins, who wrote “Golds” in just 3 1/2 months, says it will be “an easier (screen) adaptation than a lot of people think.” The writer says he has tons of ideas about how to open up the story since “the characters are already so envisioned in their world.”

As he awaits movie news on “Golds,” Tolins has other big-screen prospects in the works. Shortly, Gasmer will go out with a new spec script by Tolins and his screenwriting partner Seth Bass called “Just Around the Corner,” based on Bill Mahan’s book “The Boy Who Looked Like Shirley Temple.” The comedy is about a down-on-its-luck family that moves from Washington State to Culver City during the Depression in search of a better life.

After reading the writing partners’ first spec script, “Going Public,” a romantic comedy set in Washington, D.C., producer Melinda Jason optioned a book out of pocket for the duo to adapt, “The Vestal Virgin Room” by C.W. Smith. The story follows the relationship between a husband and wife who lose a child and wind up as lounge lizards in Las Vegas.

NORMAN WOOING SUSAN: Director Norman Jewison reportedly met with Susan Sarandon over the weekend to discuss the possibility of her starring in TriStar’s planned April production of “Him,” Diane Drake’s romantic comedy about a woman who refuses to settle for the wrong person. Jewison produced MGM’s 1989 drama “The January Man,” in which the actress starred opposite Kevin Kline.

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