Spaghetti to veal

NAME: Gene Quintano

DESCRIPTION: Funnyman with a serious plan.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING: Scripter does a pic hat trick in ’95.

NEXT PR0JECT: Not-so-silly script about a boy and his nun.

He began his career writing 3-D spaghetti Westerns and graduated to lowbrow comedies like “National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon” and “Police Academy” sequels. He’s a writer who gets to direct, he’s actually seen money on a net-profit deal and he has three films due out this year, including Disney’s “Operation Dumbo Drop,” which opens July 28.

But Gene Quintano won’t be dropping in on the “Dumbo” opening. He’s spending the summer in Tuscany writing a dark comedy about a rebellious boy at a Catholic school.

Not that Quintano regards himself as a misunderstood genius, but his frustrations can be summed up in two reviews for “Loaded Weapon,” the 1993 spoof that Quintano wrote and directed. The New York Times, which is supposed to be stodgy and elitist, liked it; the Los Angeles Times, which is supposed to understand Hollywood, hated it.

Par for the course, says Quintano, an L.A. resident but a native New Yorker. He sees himself as part of a tradition of cultural elites who create common-denominator entertainment, from the gang that invented Mad magazine to the writers of almost any primetime sitcom. “Some comedy may appear to be stupid, when in fact it’s announcing the stupidity of the things it’s making fun of,” says Quintano in defense of his oeuvre.

Besides “Dumbo,” which he co-wrote with Jim Kouf, Quintano penned two Jean-Claude Van Damme pics being readied for fall release at Universal: “Sudden Death” and “The Quest,” which marks Van Damme’s directorial debut. Yet despite his obvious success plying the genre trade, the 48-year-old scripter is poised to make the leap from programmers to big-budget dramas – or at least films in which bodily emissions go unheard.

Quintano, who says he once made money on a net profit deal – for “Police Academy 3” – says much of what he regards as his best work is stuck in development hell.

His spec script “D’Artagnan” was bought by Van Damme’s producing partner Moishe Diamant for $750,000 but was sidetracked after Disney released “The Three Musketeers” in 1993.

Quintano’s best shot yet was his spec “Dollar for the Dead,” which Cinergi bought for Bruce Willis before the deal tanked over a director: Willis’ reps at William Morris wanted an Alist helmer, but Quintano, who’s repped by International Creative Management, wanted to direct it himself.

Quintano is writing his most personal script yet for Fox, “Class Clown,” about a conflict between a nun and a rebellious boy at a Catholic school. Quintano himself had a Catholic education, including four years at Georgetown University. While doing graduate work in English at Columbia, he taught at a Catholic junior high school but was fired after he restrained a nun from striking a child.

He then worked as a bartender and a Xerox salesman while trying to get into show business, which in fact was the family business. Quintano’s maternal grandfather, Palmer Hines, produced musicals; his paternal grandfather was the Italian violin virtuoso Count Giacomo Quintano. His late mother was the novelist Dorothy Palmer Hines.

Chance encounter

A chance encounter in a bar with B-movie Western actor Tony Anthony led to a partnership to produce the 1981 3-D film “Comin’ at Ya,” which Quintano wrote and also acted in.

Although drubbed by critics, the Filmways/Orion release grossed $750,000 in its first weekend on 25 screens in New York. It went on to earn $12 million domestically – a figure Quintano says would have been higher if a shortage of 3-D glasses and special projection equipment hadn’t limited the screen count to about 200. The film led to a Quintano-penned 3-D sequel, “The Treasure of the Four Crowns,” and inspired a mini-boom in 3-D pics during the ’80s.

Quintano is seeking a different kind of depth in his work now, and he admits it’s tough getting the studios to re-examine his calling card. “You’re always fighting the typecasting,” he says. “Nobody’s going to say to me, ‘Do a serious drama.’ I have to do it myself.”

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