Interscope, whose biggest hit was the Robin Williams-starrer “Jumanji,” based on Chris Van Allsburg’s il-lustrated children’s book, has signed the author to a lucrative three-picture deal. The first film under the new pact will be adapted from another Van Allsburg fantasy book, “The Widow’s Broom.”Van Allsburg will form a produc-tion company with partner Bill Teitler, who produced “Jumanji” with Interscope head of produc
tion Scott Kroopf. Van Allsburg and Teitler will be able to adapt the fantasy books, and will have a discretionary fund to acquire outside projects to produce. Van Allsburg’s deal is guaranteed to pay him in excess of seven figures, plus a producer’s fee on any go pics.
“Widow’s Broom” is the story of a lonely widow who finds a broom that was discarded by a witch because it could no longer fly. The broom is still capable of magic, and loves its new owner. It is one of more than a dozen bestsel-ling children’s books by Van Allsburg that include “The Polar Express” and “The Wreck of the Zephyr.” The books are 32 pages, half text and half illustrations, but Kroopf and Teitler feel they are perfect blueprints for fantasy film fare.
“Chris has this amazing voice and is a visionary storyteller who’s captivating and intrinsically cinematic,” Kroopf said. “For Interscope, this deal is a cornerstone of our plans to generate family and fantasy films for Polygram’s distribution unit. Domestically, these films are the bedrock of what you build distribution on.”
Van Allsburg will adapt “The Widow’s Broom,” after sharing screen story credit on “Jumanji.”
Teitler, whose producing credits include “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and the upcoming Fox comedy “Picture Perfect,” said they hope to establish an output of one to two films per year.
Van Allsburg resisted selling his books piecemeal and was grateful to be able to control the adaptations. ICM’s Rosalie Swedlin, Paul Hook and Jackie Fuchs repped the author along with attorney Marc Von Arx and Inter-scope’s Michael Helfant and Jonathan Bader.
BIG DIRECTORS GOING TUBULAR? Some big directors are getting involved in TV series adaptations at War-ner Bros. After Barry Sonnenfeld saddled up for “Wild Wild West,” “The Fugitive” director Andrew Davis is in talks to join John Travolta in “Have Gun Will Travel” and, in the most surprising development, Dish hears “Batman” director Tim Burton is talking about doing “Scooby Doo.”
JANIS IN STEREO: The scripts are in, and the jousting on Janis Joplin biopics is getting serious. Neither TriStar, which has Nancy Savoca ready to direct Lili Taylor, nor Lakeshore/Paramount, which has Marc Rocco directing Melissa Etheridge, shows signs of wavering. The race will test the value of life rights.
Rocco and producer Marc Frydman paid $1.1 million just for exclusive rights to “Piece of My Heart.” TriStar paid nearly $1 million for its songs, including exclusive use of “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Mercedes Benz.” Rocco and Etheridge made a splash when she jammed with Janis’ band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Rocco’s talking to Etheridge pal Brad Pitt to possibly cameo as Kris Kristofferson, who wrote “Bobby McGee.”
But Peter Newman, who’s producing the TriStar film with Richard Guay, said Rocco can’t use that song or Big Brother.
Said Newman: “I don’t know how you get a film financed without life rights to Janis and her family and friends and Big Brother and the Holding Company, which we have, or how you portray Kris without the legal rights to use his song. And I’ve been told by his representives that Kris won’t take part” because of the Joplin family’s opposi-tion.
Rocco’s organizing an April concert at which Etheridge will sing as Janis to recreate her set at the Monterey Pop Festival, and his pic starts principal photography in July.
The $20 million TriStar version is expected to film this summer. It’s a more linear biopic, with Joplin-lookalike Taylor lip-synching the blues-rock singer’s tunes. Producer Newman feels the life rights make a big difference, and said Rocco’s on rocky legal ground.
“Janis is a public figure,” Newman said, “but you cannot portray family members or members of Big Brother and not get sued.”
Countered producer Frydman: “This competition’s not about legalities, but about creativity and what you put on the screen. We feared we’d be hobbled if we made a candy-coated, estate-approved version of her story. Our financiers knew from the start we’re making the seminal, edgy movie about Janis.”
Laura Joplin, Janis’ sister, said the family had given total creative control to TriStar and Savoca, and denied she would meddle.
Rocco is confident his pic will be in theaters “first, because making a movie is too difficult a process on this kind of subject matter to be second.” He then moves on to a biopic of James Dean with producer Marvin Worth. As for that project, “Dean made three films and Warner Bros. owns them all, thank goodness.”