Lewis: Remake’em laugh

There’s a new appreciation for Jerry Lewis films in the air, and this time it’s not limited to France.

After Lewis OK’d a remake of “The Nutty Professor” that turned into a smash hit film for Imagine, his William Morris agents Alan Gasmer, Rob Carlson and Jeff Witjas, are already in talks on a remake deal for “Cinderfella,” and hope to set up “The Bellboy” as well. Lewis owns rights to both of those films, which he made at Paramount.

But the big news is that Lewis has pacted with Touchstone Pictures on a remake of his 1961 comedy “The Errand Boy,” with producers Roger Birnbaum and Tom Jacobson.

The producers are already negotiating with screenwriters Seth E. Bass and Jonathan Tolins to hatch the remake of the film Lewis starred in, wrote and directed. The duo is currently writing the remake of “The Fortune Cookie” for MGM and wrote Showtime’s “Twilight of the Golds.” Lewis will be executive producer as well as consultant, and has an acting deal in place to play a role in the film.

They’ll look for a leading man to play the role originated by Lewis, a gofer at a Hollywood studio who turns the place upside down until he’s “discovered,” and is hired as a comic rival to the actual Lewis.

The deal marks the first time Birnbaum’s Caravan and the Jacobson Co. have teamed on a movie. Birnbaum and Jacobson last worked together when Birnbaum was president and Jacobson exec VP of Fox under current Disney topper Joe Roth.

“Tom and I worked together for years, and when he came to Disney we agreed that when the right project came along, we’d go after it together,” said Birnbaum. The market for rights to Lewis films has soared after the success of Imagine’s “The Nutty Professor,” but the producers began the paperwork on the deal before that movie hit theaters.No financial terms were released, but all parties deemed Lewis’ deal “substantial.”

One reason the deal took so long is because Lewis has been busy with the national tour of “Damn Yankees,” which closes in Long Beach this Sunday. Lewis will then open the show in London at the Adelphi Theater for a year. Following that he’ll do his annual MDA telethon, then go back and tour Europe, Australia and Japan with “Yankees.” The plan is for him to finish his run where he started, returning to the Broadway production once again for eight weeks at the end of 1999. Lewis’ attorney is Neil Fischer.

EWAN EYES ‘BEHOLDER’: While he waits for a date with George Lucas in the first new “Star Wars” film, “Trainspotting” star Ewan McGregor is close to a deal to slip in an indie film before he plays the young Obi Wan Kenobi, Dish hears. He’s in serious talks to star in “Eye of the Beholder” for “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” director Stephan Elliott.The black comedy has been set up by Mark Damon’s MDP, with McGregor playing a private eye who follows a woman who turns out to be a serial killer.

SCREAM’ STALEMATE: Facing fines of $1.8 million a day for using the title “Scream” after the MPAA ruled it was controlled by Sony because of Triumph’s “Screamers,” Miramax has reached a compromise of sorts with Sony (Daily Variety, April 28). Dish hears Miramax has agreed to stop its own lawsuit seeking an injunction halting the MPAA dictum, and Sony has agreed not to enforce the April 24 arbitration award of $1,500 per screen, per day — until Miramax gets a chance to appeal the decision.

The first arbitration is done with title registration execs, while the second is done with a different set of senior studio execs who hear the evidence from scratch. If Miramax loses the appeal, it’s culpable for the original fines. Normally, these matters never get this far. Last year, Warner Bros. was in position to stick it to Fox because it had registered the title “Independence Day” for an earlier picture. Even though WB had its own sci-fi pic, “Mars Attacks!,” WB allowed Fox to use a title that was the linchpin for the pic.

Miramax has a bigger dilemma, since it plans to use “Scream” in the title of the sequel. Some horsetrading might be done to rectify the situation.

CAMPBELL’S BOOK BOOKING: “Goldeneye” director Martin Campbell, currently lensing “The Mask of Zorro,” has become attached to “All Good Children,” an adaptation of the Marianne Wiggins novel “John Dollar,” which has been acquired by Jordana Glick-Franzheim’s CrossOver Prods.

The novel, being adapted by screenwriter Gita Romano, is about eight British schoolgirls on an expedition through Burma with their parents and teachers after WWI. It becomes a fight for survival after an earthquake and tidal wave maroons them and a ship captain on a deserted island. CrossOver is backed by German investors and has 10 projects in development. The novel deal was handled by attorney Todd Stern of Weissmann, Wolff, Bergman, Coleman and Silverman.

JANIS GETS A HEARING: All that was missing from a Monday reading of TriStar’s Janis Joplin biopic was the music. The studio hosted a script reading of director Nancy Savoca and Francine Prose’s script, and got a hot young group of twentysomething stars to take part. Lili Taylor, Savoca’s choice to play Joplin, read that role, and was joined by Samantha Mathis, Jared Leto, Thomas Jayne, Annabeth Gish, Brendan Fraser and Jake Busey as they worked through the script. Also in attendance were producers Richard Guay and Peter Newman, Sony’s Lucy Fisher and TriStar’s Robert Cooper and Amy Baer. Sources said the studio came away impressed by the film, which is awaiting a greenlight for a summer start.

The timing’s significant because it’s up against a Marc Rocco-directed biopic to star Melissa Etheridge for Lakeshore and Paramount, which is also vying for a summer start. There has been some consternation about greenlighting a pic around Taylor, an indie stalwart who’s unproven at the studio level. Her supporters point to Jennifer Lopez’s starmaking role in “Selena” and Angela Bassett’s turn in “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” arguing that Taylor would be the best actress for the role.

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