‘Congeniality’ charms Castle

Castle Rock Entertainment fired up its development machine with the seven-figure-plus purchase of a comedy pitch from writing trio Mark Lawrence, Katie Ford and Caryn Lucas, Castle Rock confirmed Monday.

Sam Weisman is attached to direct the project, titled “Ms. Congeniality,” sources said Monday.

The deal — which ended a bidding war late Friday night — marks the first major development purchase Castle Rock has made since the company was folded into Warner Bros. earlier this year.

The pitch is about a female FBI agent who goes undercover at a Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City to foil a potential terrorist attack.

Lawrence is also attached as exec producer on “Miss Congeniality.” No talent is attached.

Weisman, who directed the $105 million-grossing “George of the Jungle” for Disney, joined the project after the scribes sent him an early outline.

Lawrence and Ford had worked with Weisman on the TV show “Family Ties” more than a decade ago. Lucas, now a writer on CBS’ “The Nanny,” later worked with the others on short-lived series “Pride and Joy.”

UTA, which reps Weisman, Lawrence and Ford, packaged the project and sent the trio on a whirlwind tour of 15 studio meetings in two days. Castle Rock head of business affairs Jess Wittenberg negotiated for the film company.

Weisman said they chose Castle Rock because the company has developed a rep as a “filmmaker-friendly” place to work.

Lawrence currently has three projects set to start shooting next year: “The Out of Towners,” starring Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn for Paramount; “Mickey Blue Eyes” with Hugh Grant, also for Castle Rock; and “Forces of Nature,” featuring Ben Affleck for DreamWorks.

Weisman’s other feature credit is “Bye, Bye Love.” He was a director on “Family Ties” and on “Brooklyn Bridge.” He is managed by Judy Hofflund.

Castle Rock has been the subject of talks between Warners and Polygram. If the reported talks continue as suggested, WB and Polygram may enter into a co-financing arrangement to finance production and marketing costs for as many as five Castle Rock features. The film companies have not confirmed the terms of the negotiations.

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