Robbins wooed; Fox follies; uppity secretaries

BAD NEWS ON THE INDIE FRONT, and in particular Wayne Wang’s “Smoke” project for Miramax. The adaptation of the Paul Auster tale set in a Brooklyn cigar shop is supposed to be in front of the cameras in March. Wang already lined up Tom Waits to play the fuming owner and had Tim Robbins saying OK to the role of a talented, if disillusioned, writer.

Of course, Robbins’ commitment hinged on his availability. That something might crop up to create a conflict was always a possibility and it did.

Word is that Robbins just agreed to take the starring role in Paramount’s “IQ” for director Fred Schepisi. It’s to film in April. In the period romantic comedy, he’ll play a security guard at Princeton who falls for Einstein’s niece. In order to win over the old man, he goes so far as to impersonate a physicist.

Andy Breckman wrote the original script, but such leading writers as Michael Leeson and Nora Ephron have been in to polish it. Carol Baum is producing with Schepisi and though there hasn’t been any scuttlebutt about who’s to play the Nobelist, the director might be just right with a good makeup job.

THE PRECURSOR TO MONDAY’S QUAKE was definitely a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on in industry executive suites.

Over at Live Home Video, Roger Burlage came in shortly after the new year as president and CEO and let the staff know some serious changes were in store. In his first week he gave senior veep of production/acquisitions Ronna Wallace her walking papers, and other departures are in the offing.

Wallace was apparently offered a producing deal but declined. When contacted Monday, she said: “If you want to talk about the earthquake, that’s fine. If you want to talk about video, call me at the office tomorrow. I just can’t deal with secondary things now.” So, while she isn’t quite out the door, her replacement is nonetheless in the wings. Burlage has tapped Paul Almond, currently ITC’s senior veep of worldwide acquisitions, to fill Wallace’s pumps. Almond worked with the CEO at New World.

Sources in the indie sector are a might concerned by the shakeup. Wallace was considered quite eccentric but nonetheless a great booster of new talent like Quentin Tarantino. Last year she was given a special award by the Indie Feature Project/West recognizing her work at Live. Now, the award is rather reminiscent of all those Emmy nods for shows that got canceled.

THE MOST SOUGHT-AFTER JOB in town — undoubtedly something for Wallace to consider — is to head up Fox’s proposed “classics” division. Senior Fox veeps Bill Mechanic and Tom Sherak have been cooking up a specialized production/acquisitions unit to rival the likes of Gramercy. There’s no shortage of marketing, distribution and acquisition types on the lot who think they’re perfect for the job of running the new division.

However, Mechanic has had his eyes on Tom Rothman, president of production at Goldwyn, for the post. Apparently, he’s even made Rothman a very tasty offer.

Just one little problem. Rothman recently renegotiated his contract at Goldwyn and has at least a year and a half left on it. He’d like to move to Fox, but his bosses simply won’t hear of it. Mechanic’s sympathetic to his plight but not prepared to wait. Also, strict studio policy prevents Mechanic from indemnifying Rothman against possible lawsuits should he decide that he’s willing to make the break from the indie fold.

TOUCHSTONE HAS REVIVED its zeal for its big money script acquisition “Countermeasures” now that Sigourney Weaver has come aboard. The thriller — an original by Peter Osterlund and Amy Brooke Baker, with rewrites by Darryl Ponicsan — centers on the inexplicable crash of a Navy jet. Weaver, who follows such actresses as Jodie Foster and Geena Davis to the part, is toplay a military psychiatrist called in to assist the surviving pilot. Of course, what she discovers is far more worrisome and complex than m ere human error.

Still, it’s not quite time to stand on line. Producer Gale Anne Hurd has yet to nail down a director. Weaver gets to put her two cents into that creative decision, as well as bandy about some possibilities for her male co-star.

THIS IS A TOWN where some hyphenates are better than others. For instance, writer-director gets more respect than writer-secretary. Linda Taddeo, who recently worked officially in the latter capacity at ICM, found this out in rather brutal fashion.

Taddeo, and lots of others around town, may work at one job but really want to move into more creative fields. About a year ago, she had one of her scripts optioned. At the time she was repped by Metropolitan Talent Agency.

She tried to get a young, hungry agent — any of many — at ICM to take her on as a client. But she was pegged as a secretary/assistant and the agency attitude is not to encourage employees to move into other areas. It’s a policy endemic throughout the industry. When you’re “pegged,” it’s tough to break out of the mold.

So, she continued to write and one effort — the tale of a withdrawn kid in junior football and the ghost of a losing quarterback — got her attention and a new agent. Ken Harvey at CAA sold “Lightning Man” to Witt/Thomas at Warner Bros. It was to signal an end to Taddeo’s steno work. Though she didn’t get summarily turfed, her ICM bosses told her that being repped by CAA was a conflict of interest. Apparently, Metropolitan did not pose the same threat. She finished out the year and has taken this appropriate moment to hang out her scribe shingle. “I was a little surprised by the reaction at ICM,” said Taddeo. “But on reflection, I imagine the same thing would have happened if I’d been working at CAA and wound up with an ICM agent.”

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