Budget impasse puts Lee’s ‘To Live On’ in turnaround

Unable to reach a budget accord, 20th Century Fox has put Ang Lee’s $35 million Civil War-era film, “To Live On,” in turnaround, allowing the film’s co-producer Good Machine to seek another domestic partner.

Tom Rothman’s Fox film division — which is distributing Lee’s current film, “The Ice Storm” — and Good Machine were to have co-financed the pic, which Fox would have distributed domestically and Good Machine Intl. would have handled international sales.

But according to sources close to the project, the budget became a point of contention after Matt Damon pulled out to star in Anthony Minghella’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley” at Paramount. Tobey Maguire and singer Jewel still are attached to co-star in “To Live On.”

Despite the setback, Good Machine partner and “To Live On” screenwriter James Schamus said the company still expects to get the film into production in March.

Sources say Lee’s critical success with “Sense and Sensibility” and the current “Ice Storm” increases the likelihood that it may not be long before another domestic partner is found.

Miramax and October Films — with whom Good Machine has an international sales agreement — have expressed interest, sources said.

Schamus also said the turn of events doesn’t harm the Gotham-based company’s relationship with Fox. Good Machine has a first-look deal with Fox Searchlight, but can develop and produce films for all Fox film divisions.

“We are grateful to everyone at Fox for supporting this film from its inception,” said Schamus. “No matter how it gets made, we owe them an enormous debt for bringing it into the world.”

Schamus added that “Ang and Good Machine remain faithful and active members of the Fox family,” and are closing this week with Fox on two development deals for Lee. Though Schamus said he couldn’t elaborate at this time, he said one project is a broad action-adventure film and the other is a historical romance.

Additionally, Schamus said he also closed a new deal with Fox to write another screenplay for Tom Rothman’s film division.

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