Helmer closing in on deal for "Superman'

Negotiations are under way with Tim Burton to direct Warner Bros.’ “Superman,” with Nicolas Cage starring in what could become another major franchise for the studio, sources said.

If all goes well, the project — produced by “Batman” filmmaker Jon Peters — will go before the cameras in mid-October, with Cage expected to start production on the project around the first of November.

Warner Bros. is banking on the project for a major bow in summer 1998. The marketing for “Superman” already is being handled as a big event film.

Cage first stars in Brian De Palma and David Koepp’s thriller “Snake Eyes” for Paramount Pictures, which is scheduled to roll Aug. 4. The studio still is looking for a replacement co-star for Cage after the exit of Will Smith, but no one has committed. That means Cage will be in two fairly labor-intensive films back to back.

Negotiations began with Burton after a series of meetings with the director Friday and Monday, insiders said. Burton’s name first surfaced last week to direct the project most recently rewritten by Kevin Smith (Daily Variety, April 4).

In January, the studio began talking to Burger King about a first-look arrangement in an effort to lock the fast-food giant into a deal. Offering the burger biggie the right of first refusal was a way for the studio to nail down an estimated $30 million to $40 million in media way ahead of its rivals. At the time, there was no script, let alone a director or star.

In order for BK to jump aboard, however, the filmmaker and the studio must be sensitive to the needs of the promotional partner. When the Burton-directed “Batman Returns” was released, BK rival McDonald’s (which was the promotional partner for the film) was heavily criticized by parents groups around the country for the film’s dark and violent nature being promoted to children.

The original “Batman,” also directed by Burton, also initially was turned away by marketeers for the same reason. The only partner the studio could find was Taco Bell, which skews demographically to teens. Taco Bell took the risk and it paid off big.

Burton last directed “Mars Attacks!” for Warner Bros. Cage, who won the actor Oscar last year for his performance “Leaving Las Vegas,” just completed “FaceOff” for Paramount and previously did the actioner “Con Air” for Jerry Bruckheimer. Bruckheimer also produced the Cage box office hit “The Rock.” Burton is repped by WMA’s Mike Simpson and Cage by CAA’s Richard Lovett.

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