‘Instinct’ has Disney bug-eyed

WALT DISNEY PICTURES has agreed to pay screenwriter Ron Kasdan $850,000 for rights and the screenplay adaptation of “Instinct,” based on a 17-page outline for a novel that earned him a two-book deal worth mid-six figures from Warner Books. It puts Disney into a growing swarm of pestilence pictures — including one with the same title.

In the deal made by Walt Disney president David Vogel and Jerry Zietman of The Agency, Disney will mount a pic based on Kasdan’s upcoming novel about an ecological nightmare that occurs after toxic chemicals are dumped in Mexico. Insects that communicate through chemical reactions with their own kind suddenly can correspond with other species. Suddenly, the bugs are bonding; they band together to attack humans in unstoppable swarms. And, they’re headed for Texas.

Kasdan is a documentarian who has written screenplays for such producers as Jon Peters and Arnold Kopelson. He’d intended to make the idea a miniseries, but decided to bug publishers about a book. First stop was Rick Horgan, VP and exec editor of Warner Books, who quickly took it off the market because of the way the writer made complicated science believable and dramatic. “He’s done a lot of research on insects and how they operate, their reliance on chemicals to communicate. I read his other scripts, the way he developed characters, and came away thinking this was a guy we had to sign.” Disney creative exec Christian McLaughlin brought it to exec veep Susan Lyne, who pitched it to Vogel.

The bug scenes in the proposal are “Twister”-like: rangers sent to investigate a defoliated forest wire in that the trees are still green, only to realize the branches are swarming with green insects — and the bugs are still hungry.

Hollywood is showing a voracious appetite for bug pics. TriStar’s got Paul Verhoeven’s space-bug pic “Starship Troopers,” and Dimension has Guillermo Del Toro’s “Mimic,” in which six-foot cockroaches menace Mira Sorvino. Vogel acknowledged his title will have to be changed, because there’s already a pestilence pic called “Instinct” — which once was set up at Touchstone with Caravan, but is now with Mandalay. It’s “Arachnophobia” with ants, and Geoffrey Wright (“Romper Stomper”) is directing, if they can work the bugs out of the script.

At Warner Bros. producer Bruce Berman is developing “Dust,” a novel by Charles Pelligrino which tells how the extinction of insects dooms the planet. On the bugs-are-our-friends track, Pixar’s working on “A Bug’s Life” for Disney, and DreamWorks has the animated “Ants.” But Fox Family has exterminated “Big Bugs” because of all the insect traffic.

MOORE’S DOCU: Michael Moore returned to his hometown of Flint, Mich., where he gave the local crowd a sneak preview of his latest documentary “The Big One” last night. It was the site of his first pic, “Roger & Me.”

The new film, said Moore, grew out of a book tour for his Random House tome “Downsize This,” in which he covered 47 cities in 50 days. “I was reading about the strong economy and record days on Wall Street, but seeing something much different in all these cities,” said Moore.

He called the BBC, and within 24 hours, had a crew on his doorstep to chronicle his every rabble-rousing move. He’d stump for the book, and badger local corporations.

“I’d give Downsizer of the Year awards in each city, like Milwaukee Johnson, a company which announced it would close and moved to Mexico while I was there. I gave them an Ed McMahon-sized check for 80¢, to pay the first hourly wage of a Mexican worker.”

Much like the first pic’s title character, GM topper Roger Smith, most CEOs ignored him. An exception was Nike topper Phil Knight. “He rarely gives interviews, and I don’t know if he knew what he was getting into,” said Moore. “At one point, I asked how he felt making shoes in Indonesia using 12-year-olds, and he said, ‘They’re not 12, they’re 14.’ He was deadly serious.”

Moore showed the pic to some distribs at Cannes, but hopes to premiere it on the festival circuit. BBC will try to hook a distrib. Moore’s also got a consortium of foreign financing for another season of his series “TV Nation,” and will film a pilot for a late-night show with the Fox Network put together by Columbia TriStar.

SELLECK-TIVE TOM: Tom Selleck called to put perspective on his parting of the ways with “Coach” creator Barry Kemp. They planned to hatch a series marking Selleck’s first regular series role since “Magnum, P.I.” but decided last week not to go forward.

“It wouldn’t be fair to say I pulled away from Barry, because with his track record and talent, he’d never have to audition for anybody,” said Selleck. “We just decided we couldn’t get on the same page.”

Selleck’s feeling heat to get on the air, primarily due to the high expectations of CBS to get back on the ratings map. But Selleck’s being highly selective, recalling that he turned down playing a James Bond type in a series before getting the starmaking role in “Magnum.”

“CBS offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse last June, one that came out of the blue,” he said. “They asked for years if I’d do another drama, and I knew I’d never see my family. Then I did ‘Friends,’ and found you can work six months and be home every night for dinner. That set in motion a process. Which takes time.”

After costarring in the comedy film “In and Out,” Selleck’s in talks to do another feature. But he also hopes to nail down a series concept shortly. He’s reading lots of scripts and meeting with show runners. “I’d love to get to work, and my dream scenario is to get a good show on the air right after the Winter Olympics.”

If, of course, he finds a gold medal script in that time.

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