Filmmakers bear hardships on ‘Panda’ shoot

GOOD MORNING: It’s a feeding frenzy for family/animal films. Fast on the heels of current boffo box office hits and completion of their “Little Panda” in China, Lee Rich and Gary Foster are readying their Russian bear pic, “Orson” at 20th, from WB’s turnaround. Foster and the “Panda” party are back after three months in a China site (Wolong) so remote it took three days to get to the location after a 20-hour drive on unpaved roads. (The Chinese government forbade flying over the territory.) Food was shipped in from Hong Kong and they communicated home by satellite feed. But they were able to film with two baby pandas and one adult. “The movie promotes preservation,” Foster insists. “There are only 1,000 pandas left in the world.” While Foster finished “Panda” in China , Lee Rich wound their “Just Cause” with Sean Connery, Kate Capshaw, Larry Fishburne, Ed Harris and Blair Underwood (the heavy!) in Florida. Rich and Foster are also helping to fill Tom Arnold’s new feature card, offering him the lead in their New Liner, “Even Steven.” And adding to their family-oriented program is “Shadow Song” at WB, about a 16-year-old Southern boy’s summer Catskill romance with a Jewish teenage girl, then — fade out, fade in … Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise and director Ron Howard flew in the “Vomit Comet” as part of their indoctrination as astronauts for “Apollo 13.” The thesp/astronauts flew up in a KC 135 to 34,000 feet, where the plane “fell out of the sky” for 25 seconds so they could experience weightlessness. They have been to NASA, Huntsville and the Kennedy Center, getting in the mode for the dramatic, real-life module drama of 1970. John Sayles is now working on the final script. Paxton tells me, ‘We’re compelled by the responsibility to the men (astronauts), to NASA and to the nation. We are inspired.” Recalling how he gained realism for his earlier, self-effacing used car salesman role opposite Jamie Lee Curtis in “True Lies,” Paxton reveals director Jim Cameron had him study “Three Days of the Condor”–“to see how Robert Redford came on to Faye Dunaway!” Paxton, excellent in that role, admits, “The more self-effacing the role, the better!”

“KIRK KERKORIAN BELIEVES THE AIRLINE is a powerful tool for the travel and entertainment industry,” MGM Grand Air president Bob Gould told me as the line’s “Golden Triangle” readies to re-start skedded commercial service Sept. 8. The planes have been completely refurbished (Grand Class only) for the N.Y.-L.A.-Las Vegas flights. They are “an extension of MGM Grand Hotel’s entertainment franchise in Las Vegas,” notes Bob Maxey, prez and CEO. The line also ties up with Royal Cruise Lines to fly the airlines’ DC-8s to pick up (high roller) passengers from ports of call anywhere in the Atlantic-Pacific. P.S. these same planes continue charter biz with high rollers and others — like the White House press corps. (And they certainly aren’t high rollers!) The “Grand Class” fare will match first class on other airlines, Gould reminds … The Academy’s board meets Tuesday, when it’s expected Arthur Hiller will be re-elected president for a second term … Malcolm Stuart is returning to the agency biz after almost 30 years as a producer and studio executive for both TV and features. He had earlier been with MCA and the Ingo Preminger agencies and now has his own banner to “personally” represent writers, directors, producers … Agent Charles Stern was one of those who had been bidding (unsuccessfully) to buy some of the airwaves auctioned by the FCC last week for interactive television service. Prices went beyond anyone’s expectations. F’rinstance, San Diego, one of five cities Stern hoped to buy, sold for $ 3.4 million. Noting the future of these services, Stern said one of potential use could be to bypass agents in the sale of scripts!

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Eric Douglas performed his standup comedy in San Jose, where dad Kirk was working on “The Lies That Boys Tell.” Kirk and the company caught Eric at the Knuckleheads Club. And next, at the Comedy Underground in Seattle, where brother Michael was working with Demi Moore in “Disclosure.” Next , young Douglas heads to Edinburgh’s festival to make the Scots laugh … Tom Sizemore and London socialite Linda Marie Evans are engaged to wed in the fall. Sizemore’s winding “Strange Days,” with “Natural Born Killers” and “Devil in a Blue Dress” in the can … Among those who’ll tribute the late Robert E. Lee at the Doolittle tonight: Jerry Herman, Hugh Martin, Billy Goldenberg, Penny Fuller , Hal Kanter, Hal Holbrook, Norman Corwin and, of course, Jerry Lawrence … At Tatou’s “Mirth and Music” Night” tonight, Norm Crosby will be joined on stage by son Alexander C. and his jazz trio … Buzz magazine’s one-hour special airs Aug.25 on KCBS-2 with a hoped-for regular show.

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