Producers will throw MGM ‘Bone’

Talking-dog movies seem to be in vogue.

MGM-based producing partners Donna Roth and Susan Arnold, whose $ 13 million debut movie “Benny & Joon” opens today on 400 screens, have acquired Margaret Oberman and Jim Piddock’s spec script “Bad to the Bone,” a family comedy about a cynical, wisecracking mutt who teams up with a ghost to save two kidnapped kids.

As reported earlier this week, producer Lauren Shuler-Donner just set up a talking-dog pic based on Susan Meddaugh’s children’s book “Martha Speaks,” at 20 th Century Fox (Daily Variety, April 13).

Roth and Arnold said they are not at all concerned about competing projects, but they do plan to move quickly, with hopes of lensing the movie for MGM this year.

“I think that this is pretty unique and funny,” said Roth, to which Arnold added, “I think there are talking-dog movies all around and there’s room for them. But ours is also a ghost story. The real trick is to make ours fast and make it funny.” Arnold said she and Roth “wanted to make a goofy, funny family movie that we could take our kids to.”

The producers said they expect a rewrite within the next couple of weeks, at which time they will begin considering directors.

“Bad to the Bone” husband and wife scripters Oberman and Piddock previously sold their spec script “Dwayne” to ITC a few years back. Piddock independent of Oberman also wrote “Traces of Red.”

Oberman, previously a staff writer on “Saturday Night Live” and an in-house writer-producer at Lorimar, scripted with Pam Norris on “Troupe Beverly Hills,” starring Shelley Long.

As Roth and Arnold await the opening of “Benny & Joon,” they also await word from Largo Entertainment about what they hope will be their next go picture, the previously announced “Unstrung Heroes,” which Richard LaGravenese adapted from Franz Lidz’s novel. “Used People” helmer Beeban Kidron is attached to direct (Daily Variety, Jan. 27).

The producers said they are hoping for a late summer or early fall start on “Heroes,” which was a project they set up at Largo prior to signing their first-look deal at MGM in January. Story is about a young boy who is raised by his crazy, lovable uncles when his mother is dying of cancer.

The first project Roth and Arnold put into development under the MGM deal was Sarah Gilbert’s novel “Summer Gloves,” a comedy about three generations of beauty queens — a mother, daughter and grandmother — in the South. They said they are seeking a writer to adapt the book.

Roth and Arnold said it was ironic that “Benny & Joon,” a romantic fable directed by Jeremiah Chechik and starring Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson and Aidan Quinn, was coming up against the second week of Paramount’s Woody Harrelson starrer “Indecent Proposal.” It was a year ago the movie nearly “fell apart” when Harrelson left.

As reported, MGM filed a breach-of-contract suit against the actor. Paramount , “Indecent Proposal” director Adrian Lyne and producer Sherry Lansing were also named in the suit, which was subsequently settled out of court.

Arnold noted that while that was “a harrowing experience for us, this should be the worst crisis we face and it was good for us to go through it and make this movie. It was a great adventure from beginning to end.”

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