Mancuso lines up big MGM/UA guns

Racing the clock to whip the new MGM/UA into shape, Frank G. Mancuso’s exec team announced this week that the development slate at the twin studios will likely yield over 20 pictures in 1994.

Top-drawer names like Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg have signed on for MGM’s new lineup.

Louis Malle, Robert Duvall, Walter Hill and Geena Davis are behind separate UA titles.

Yet even as the typically medium-sized, high-concept pix are moving swiftly into the packaging stage, superstar thesps remain conspicuously absent from committed positions. But plenty offirm offers are still on the table.

At a press meeting Wednesday, Mancuso was quick to dismiss the increasingly star-hungry conventional wisdom, stating unequivocally that “our films for both slates are more project- and content-based.”

“We are in a perfect position, because we have pictures that we want to make, ” added UA prexy John Calley.

In a parallel exec move that illustrates just how aggressively Mancuso aims to move his new slate into position, ex-Miramax marketing topper Gerry Rich will assume duties as exec marketingVP on Monday — two weeks earlier than previously assumed.

This means today is departing marketing and distrib prexy Ashley Boone’s last day in the Santa Monica offices, and not the end of the month, as had been widely speculated.

For the moment, Mancuso said, other related positions would not be affected.

Regrouping ’til May

After the release of the remaining five-pic MGM slate of films initiated during the Ladd regime, there will be a production hiatus between New Year’s and May to oil the releasing, marketing and distrib machine and create a new studio image, Mancuso said.

While Mancuso acknowledged that some of the studio’s new pix will be co-financed by such well-coffered output partners as Polygram, “Fundamentally, our feeling is that we should put up all the production funds ourselves,” Mancuso said.

But even if the next few years turn out to be a long, hard climb to equity, Mancuso pointed to the converging dynamics of the last few months as a positive fiscal indicator.

“Look at what’s happened in the marketplace recently with Paramount, QVC, Cox , Southwestern Bell, Nynex and the rest of them,” Mancuso said by way of explaining why “the asset-based value of this company has gone up, and the value of the general assets of our 1,700-titled library has gone up.”

“We started from Ground Zero,” Calley added. “And we’ve built from there.” Asked if MGM/UA is moving into position to be snapped up by a telco, none of the execs would comment.

Breathing room

“The restructuring of the debt has given us more time,” Mancuso added. “The bonds have been bought back and we have a positive balance sheet. There are (substantial) assets there.”

The reborn MGM/UA recently unloaded about $ 960 million on another division of its parent company, the French bank Credit Lyonnais. That debt will remain at the old MGM company and thus not affect the balance sheet of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

CL has also previously announced that a total of $ 400 million has been made available to aid Mancuso’s slate until the bank must hand off controlling interest in the studio by 1997.

MGM prexy Mike Marcus’ team has been able to put together several projects in the four months since Ladd left the studio.

“Species” is a sci-fi actioner about a lab-created femme being who escapes and wreaks havoc as she kills whatever gets in her way.

It has been described as a reverse “Alien” type picture, in which the woman and the monster have become one.

Donaldson is the frontrunner to helm “Species.” Producers are Dennis Feldman, who wrote and will produce with Frank Mancuso Jr.

“A Walk in the Clouds” is a romantic comedy which Alfonse Arau will helm for producer Jerry Zucker from Robert Kamen’s script. No cast has been announced.

“Domestic Life” is taking shape under the aegis of Spielberg: Based on Paula Webb’s novel about a woman’s tumultuous love life as she tumbles into a second relationship after her just-ended marriage, the project was penned for the screen by “Big” writer Anne Spielberg (the producer’s sister).

Though very little else other than the Spielberg siblings’ involvement is firm at this point, the studio is betting that it will be a flagship production with a big star.

“The Day After Tomorrow” is an MGM actioner based on the still not unpublished novel by Allan R. Folsom about a U.S. doctor who travels to France on business but gets involved in a neo-Nazi conspiracy. Folsom adapts for the screen; Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck produce.

“Gino’s Finger” is a female mob comedy, which Richard Chapman and E. Jack Kaplan wrote, to be helmed by Jonathan Lynn. No cast has been announced.

“Call Me a Cop” will be helmed by John Landis, with Rosalie Swedlin and David Gerber producing. The story is about a group of gangsters who move into an abandoned police precinct to prepare for their next job. To make it look legit, they dress as cops, but find that the role — and the neighborhood — grow on them.

Bette Midler will star in the comedy “Queen of the Boiler Room” by “Wiseguy” author Nick Pileggi. Bonnie Bruckheimer is set to produce the MGM pic, which is still in early stages.

Ron Bass is writing “What Dreams May Come” with Steven Deutsch as producer.

At prexy John Calley’s UA, meanwhile, the development pile is 45 titles high, out of which 10 are being prepped to go beginning in early January.

The typical budget for each film, Calley said, will be around $ 25-$ 28 million.

First offering

The likeliest first-out UA candidate is the high-concept computer drama “Hackers,” which Calley described as “a smaller, younger ‘War Games.’ ”

Currently being packaged with a director and a largely unknown teen cast, this pic will likely be done at medium-budget and could be before cameras right after New Year’s.

Michael Peyser and Janet Graham will produce “Hackers” from Rafael Moreau’s script, which tells the story of keyboard-savvy youngsters who get involved in an industrial espionage case.

The previously announced “Higgins & Beech” is UA’s anticipated B.O. trump card in the startup phase with Richard Gere and Michelle Pfeiffer pulling the load.

Currently, scouting teams are in China to find appropriate locations, since the Korean peninsula remains off-limits.

Another low-to-medium budget project set up at UA is the romancer “Martine,” which will be helmed by “The Joy Luck Club” director Wayne Wang, and has already attracted strong interest by Andy Garcia for the lead.

Louis Malle is attached to the UA project “Dietrich.” The pic is a look at a period in the life of German screen diva Marlene Dietrich. “Six Degress of Separation” playwright/screenwriter John Guare is set to adapt fromthe book by Dietrich’s daughter Maria Riva.

UA toppers said helmer Walter Hill is committed to the western “Wild Bill Hickock.” Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck will produce.

Another high-concept UA pic is the low-to-mid-budget futuristic actioner “Tank Girl,” to be helmed by Rachel Talalay and produced by Trilogy Entertainment’s John Watson, Pen Densham and Richard Lewis.

Other UA development projects include an untitled drama Calley bought as a pitch last month.

Written by Billy Bob Thornton (“One False Move”) and Tom Epperson, the project has attracted Robert Duvall, Randa Haines and Todd Black to produce the story about a redneck whose life turns topsy-turvy after he finds out he is part black.

“Mavis” is a Nancy Abramson-penned comedy in which a single mother wants to secure her daughter’s future by telling a promiscuous politician that her kid is really his illegitimate daughter.

Fanny Levy and Geena Davis are set to produce “Mavis.”

“Cliffhanger” scripter Michael France is working on a first draft for the 17 th James Bond pic for producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

Susan Arnold and Donna Roth will produce screenwriter Frank Galati’s script “Summer Gloves,” a story about three Dixie beauties who have all competed in the local beauty pageant. Pic is based on Sarah Gilbert’s book.

“Edge of Eden,” scripted by Ron Bass from a book by former Vietnam correspondent Nicholas Proffitt, is currently out to directors. “Edge” is an action-adventure set in colonial Africa.

“The Spider and the Prince,” penned by “Benny & Joon” screenwriter Barry Berman, is also out to helmers. “Spider” is about two circus performers who fall in love despite fierce competitiveness under the Big Top.

In more preliminary development stages is “Pomona Queen,” a dark comedy that puts a meek traveling salesman and a hard-boiled biker on the road together, based on a book by Kem Nunn. Jeremiah Chechik will direct from a screenplay by W.D. Richter for producers Midge Sanford and Sarah Pillsbury

Another UA title is “Shadow over Babylon,” an actioner set in the Middle East , produced by Barbara Broccoli and written by Jim Carabatsos.

Calley also mentioned an untitled project that tells the story of a year in the life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who took a gig teaching to renew himself.

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