With a healthy discretionary fund from Universal, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s now privately held Imagine Films is gearing up to fill its pipeline with a diverse mix of new movie projects.

Production prexy David Friendly said that with “less business pressures on the guys, we can now return to what we do best. We want to be thought of as producers who have the capacity to purchase material with use of our own funds.”

While Howard and Grazer’s $ 9-a-share buyout of Imagine is at least a month away from being officially completed, Imagine plans to advance a number of projects on its current slate.

Closest to the starting gate are “Cowboy Way” for Universal and “My Girl II” for Columbia.

Woody Harrelson and Brad Pitt are being courted to star in “Cowboy Way,” a contemporary action/adventure scripted by Bill Wittliff about two New Mexican cowboys who become big-city heroes when they are forced to travel to Manhattan to rescue their ranch hand’s kidnapped daughter.

Grazer, who will produce, said Universal wants the film ready for release by Christmas, which means active pre-production is imminent.

“My Girl II,” which anticipates reteaming Anna Chlumsky, Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis, will again be directed by Howard Zieff. Projected start date is March 28.

Carrie Fisher is rewriting Janet Kovalcik’s original coming-of-age love story about Vada’s (Chlumsky) trip to California.

Another priority project is “Clipped,” Kim Buckley and James Gierman’s comedy about an introverted linguistics professor who loses control of his emotions and physical faculties when a magnetized paper clip lodges in his brain and moves through various nerve centers. Rockne O’Bannon is scripting “Hep,” a stylish, 1960s detective piece based on an idea by Howard about a slick L.A. private eye who must solve his partner’s murder.

Mandel/Ganz scripts

Imagine’s close allies, screenwriters Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz, have at least three projects in the works, including “Greed,” a comedy about an extended family whose members are vying for a rich uncle’s enormous inheritance.

The writing pair are working on another original comedy, which Grazer describes as a “David and Goliath”-type love story about the least likely guy stealing the “perfect” guy’s girlfriend.

Mandel and Ganz will also contribute the story (but not script) to an in-house idea, “Minimum Security,” a comedy set in a prison.

Brian Levant and a team of 13 writers are continuing to develop the broad comedy “Blowhard!,” a parody of action films following hero Ed McGuffin as he overcomes the dastardly forces of international terrorists in the world’s tallest high-rise. Levant (“Beethoven”) will direct after finishing U’s live-action feature “The Flintstones.”

Also moving forward is Mike Werb’s screen adaptation of “Curious George,” based on the popular children’s books. Story follows the adventures of the curious chimp and his master from the wilds of Africa to the urban jungle of New York City.

Theresa Rebeck is adapting the off-Broadway play “Spike Heels,” a contemporary romantic comedy that looks at the issue of sexual harassment.

Howard and Janet Meyers will produce “Parole Officer,” Pam Norris’ female action comedy about an idealistic parole officer who helps a tough parolee and former cop prove she was falsely imprisoned. Whoopi Goldberg has long expressed interest in the project.

Alan Pakula is attached to produce “Friday Night Lights,” which David Aaron Cohen adapted from H.G. Bissinger’s non-fiction book about the intensely competitive world of high school football in a Texas town.

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