Deep in Woods, there’s a Disney producing deal

OUT OF THE WOODS AND OVER TO DISNEY: Cary Woods, producing partner of Rob Fried at TriStar for the past 2 1/2 years, is negotiating an unprecedented Disney deal in which he would develop and produce films for both Hollywood Pictures and Miramax Films, Dish hears. The deal would make him unusual among top-tier producers, since he would be buying projects aimed at both the mainstream and independent markets.

The exclusive producing deal being discussed would allow Woods to make both mainstream fare with higher budgets for Hollywood Pictures and eclectic films to be distributed by Miramax. The deal was the result of a long-term relationship between Woods, Hollywood Pictures senior vice president Dan Halsted and Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, who would be making his biggest producer deal since joining the Disney banner. Hollywood Pictures topper Ricardo Mestres is also a key component in the arrangement, sources said. None of the players would return calls or comment.

At TriStar, Fried and Woods have produced such films as “So, I Married An Axe Murderer,””Rudy” and the upcoming Norman Jewison film, “Him.” Though it was kept quiet, sources said Woods and Fried had planned to split amicably when their TriStar deal ended this summer. They have numerous other properties at the studio, including “Godzilla.” Separately, Woods is the executive producer of “Threesome,” a low-budget film that got raves at Sundance. Sources said Woods has always kept an interest in the indie marketplace, cultivated while an agent at William Morris, where he repped Gus Van Sant on “Drugstore Cowboy” and Michael Lehmann of “Heathers,” among others. For Miramax, it’s another aggressive push to generate its own product.

CASTING INTRIGUE: Director Jerry Zucker, who has long been trying to get his dream project, “First Knight,” off the ground at Columbia, might finally have found his King Arthur. Dish hears he’s in serious talks with Sean Connery for the role … Fox, meanwhile, has quelled doubts that Barbet Shroeder would soon do the remake of “Kiss of Death” because the studio couldn’t find a leading man. Though Alec Baldwin kissed off “Kiss,” Fox is now smooching with “NYPD Blue” star David Caruso, who’s poised to make a high profile movie during his TV hiatus.

TUBELESS TONYA?: It sounds like a TV movie plot: Wednesday, two producers were chosen from about 100 competitors by advisers of Tonya Harding and given 24 hours to shop her story and make a deal that would have paid the skater $ 500, 000 for an authorized TV movie and another six-figure fee if Harding was the star. All that producers Norman Twain (“Lean on Me”) and Michael Greenfield had to do was line up a network willing to air the movie and get the money to Harding by early today.

Unfortunately, according to tube sources around the dial who heard of the vigorous attempt by the duo to make the deal, the networks refused to give a payday to Harding, exhibiting a new-found sensibility in the wake of the Buttafuoco-Fisher telepics. They’ll happily exploit Harding, but they won’t enrich her, apparently convinced she will be charged in the attack on skater Nancy Kerrigan. Not a single web would make a deal.

The producers quickly lined up foreign distribution and financing, contingent on network airing, and then scoured the nets for an airdate, hitting up Fox, CBS , NBC, and HBO. According to sources, Fox didn’t completely rule out a deal, but the others completely shut out the producers, even though sources said their proposal — a story of greed, hype and sports in the ’90s — held definite ratings potential. By day’s end, the producers were in the position of having won the lottery — in rubles, as the deadline approached with no deal in place.

Whether Harding will find some other taker remains to be seen, but it clearly won’t be easy. Harding reps didn’t return calls, nor did the producers.

DYING HARD?: A hard decision will be made today, one that might concede that the parties involved in “Die Hard III” won’t bring a finished movie to the Fox holiday party. Dish hears that Fox’s desire to fast-track the movie for Christmas has created an unworkable deadline, and Fox and Cinergi are on the verge of calling off the spring start date for the $ 60 million action pic.

The trouble has been in turning Jonathan Hensleigh’s highly regarded spec script “Simon Says”– which Fox bought as a free-standing project — into the third installment of the franchise, starring Bruce Willis as cop John McClain and directed by John McTiernan. Giving the scribe about one month to radically transform the original script to fit the “Die” cast has proven difficult.

The script — in which a white cop teams with a black activist to hunt down a bomber in New York — has not yet been transformed to everybody’s satisfaction. Right now, there would be room for a scant eight weeks of pre-production if the holiday goal was met, and Dish hears the principals fear there is not enough time.

Remember, the last time McTiernan went into a film with a huge budget, rushed schedule, and script challenges was “Last Action Hero.” Question now is whether the parties will agree to push the opening date back to summer 1995, and delay the film’s start for a few months. The hard part will be keeping all the parties in place.

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