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Colpix buys ‘The Juror’

Columbia Pictures has closed the outright $ 1.5 million purchase of movie rights to novelist George Dawes Green’s upcoming book, “The Juror,” which will be brought to film by producer Irwin Winkler, it was confirmed Wednesday.

In cutting the mega-deal, Columbia is driving to produce a literary adaptation along the lines of such major productions as Paramount Pictures’ “The Firm,” Warner Bros.’ “The Pelican Brief” and the coming WB project “The Client.” Published by Warner Books, “The Juror” is skedded to hit stores this Christmas.

“The Juror” purchase sparked intense interest in Hollywood development circles because it is similar to the just-wrapped Morgan Creek Prods. production “Trial by Jury,” which stars Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, William Hurt, Armand Assante and Gabriel Byrne. Typically, studios steer clear of purchasing material that resembles a property already headed for theaters.

Set in New York, “The Juror” was described in Columbia press materials as”the story of a single mother, serving on the jury at a mafia kingpin’s trial, who is given a simple ultimatum: accept a bribe to find the defendant not guilty, or risk her life as well as that of her 12-year-old son.”

Publicity materials for “Trial by Jury” read: “The strength and convictions of an idealistic young woman are put to the test when she is selected to sit on a jury at the murder trial of a notorious New York mob boss … the accused targets her as his best chance at acquittal, and threatens her life and the life of her son.” Directed by Heywood Gould, “Trial by Jury” is skedded for release in the fall.

Winkler will produce “The Juror” under his Winkler Films banner, which is in the midst of a three-year deal at Colpix. The producer said Columbia received the “The Juror” manuscript Tuesday night, completed the purchase of the property Wednesday afternoon and began to draw up a list of potential writers and directors immediately afterward. Columbia views “The Juror” as a potential 1995 release.

“The Juror” agreement was viewed by Colpix insiders as a signal that the studio may re-emerge as an aggressive buyer of new material, following a lengthy development and production slowdown in late 1993 and early 1994.

“The Juror” was sold by Creative Artists Agency’s Matthew Snyder, working in conjunction with New York-based co-agent Molly Friedrich of the New York-based Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency. Central in orchestrating the purchase of “The Juror” for Columbia was president of worldwide production Lisa Henson, studio executive veepee of production Gareth Wigan and veepee of production Kevin Jones.

“The Juror” purchase ranks as one of the largest literary deals cut by the studio under the stewardship of Mark Canton, who stepped up to a $ 3.4 million deal to pay Joe Eszterhas to write and produce the Gambino crime family saga “Gangland” last April.

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