Babaloo Mandel, who has written a string of hit comedies like “City Slickers” with partner Lowell Ganz, has gotten clearance from the tower for his first attempt at flying solo.
“Joe’s Dream,” a script about a pilot’s most unusual journey, has been greenlit by Village Roadshow Pictures; the Oz-based company usually posts partners with a domestic distributor, but has committed to the entire production budget.
While Mandel and Ganz are finishing up “Ed TV” for director Ron Howard and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” for Jim Carrey, Mandel’s solo script has no laugh track.
“It’s the emotional story of a test pilot grieving the loss of his young son, and healing himself through a magical journey within his son’s favorite children’s book,” Mandel said. “It took me five years to write. My idol is Eric Clapton, and one day while I was surrounded by my kids, I opened a newspaper to see that his son had died tragically. I was shattered and I had to go upstairs and work this out.”
Though a well-respected company, Village Roadshow has had its ups and downs. It’s clearly stepping up, making pay-or-play offers to actors and directors.
The film will be produced by Mandel, Gene Kirkwood and Phillip Rhee through their Yellow Brick Road Prods.
Village Roadshow Prods. president Greg Coote, who will be executive producer with Roadshow exec VP Norman Stephens and Graham Burke, said the project “fits perfectly into our expanded production and foreign sales plans. We hope it will be the first of many we do together.”
It’s the third project Village Roadshow has moved to finance without a partner: the other two come under its arrangement with Punch Prods., for the Dustin Hoffman-starrer “The House of Mirth,” and “The Blouse Man,” which is in pre-production with Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen.
Kirkwood, meanwhile, said he hopes to also move forward with the screen adaptation of “What Makes Sammy Run” at Warner Bros. Ben Stiller has turned in the script, which he plans to direct and star in. The screenplay has roles specifically written for Robert Mitchum, Mickey Rooney and Charlton Heston, who serve as tour guides for Sammy Glick’s self-centered journey to studio chief. Though it’s set in the same period as Budd Schulberg’s novel, Sammy resembles any number of contemporary hustlers in Hollywood.
SPIKE SPYING BRYANT?: While Kobe Bryant’s still working on making the transition from high school to NBA star, he might try working on movie stardom as well. Director Spike Lee is eyeing the Los Angeles Lakers rookie for the lead role alongside Denzel Washington in his Touchstone film “He Got Game.”
Washington agreed last week to star as a man who’s doing time for killing his wife. He’s offered a lighter sentence if he gets his son — the most hotly recruited high school basketball player in the country — to play for a school in the same state as his prison. Trouble is, the kid hates his father for killing his mother and doesn’t speak to him.
Lee has wanted badly to tap a pro hoopster for Washington’s co-star. He’d be hard-pressed to find a better candidate than Bryant, who skipped college and would actually be headed for his sophomore year in college had he not signed a megabuck pact with the Lakers. He also has some experience with showbiz, having dated “Moesha” star Brandy. The film starts shooting in July.
ACHER RETURN?: With Tom Selleck waiting for the right vehicle before jumping back into the series game, possibly this winter, the big talk is whether Cher will reemerge on TV.
She starred with ex-husband Sonny and on her own in long-running variety shows, but has been talking about coming back to TV in a sitcom. She’s signed no deals yet, though Cher has had meetings with the hot comic tandem of Bonnie and Terry Turner, who created “3rd Rock From the Sun.”
GOOD FORM: Jeffrey Spencer and Alan Zeleski have landed their second pitch sale from Universal, David Kirschner and the Jim Henson Creature Shop, and they might have their advertising training to thank. They got $250,000 against $550,000 for “Learning to Fly,” a comedy about a flightless chicken that takes advantage of a flock of ostriches who believe they can teach him to fly.
The scribes come from Leo Burnett in Chicago, where they were creative directors on Miller Brewing and McDonald’s. Just as they did while pitching ad campaigns, they storyboarded the whole movie, which made the pitch simpler. Jeff Okin at Metropolitan along with Behr and Abramson repped the scribes.
CASTINGS: Melanie Griffith is meeting today with Howard Stern, hoping he’ll play a role in “Jane,” a $10 million indie film she’s toplining with David Spade. The film’s written and will be directed by Lyndall Hobbs. Hobbs has offered Stern a part of an over-the-top, paranoid, gun-toting music mogul. While Stern’s looking for the next vehicle as a follow-up to “Private Parts,” the colorful cameo would only require three weeks of his time. Stern’s expected to decide soon. …
Jake Weber, who last did “What the Dead Man Heard,” has landed a co-starring role with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins in “Meet Joe Black,” now filming for Martin Brest and Universal. He’s repped by Gersh’s Bill Butler and managed by Kimberly Hines … Rosalind Chao has been cast as Robin Williams’ daughter for Interscope’s “What Dreams May Come.” She joins Cuba Gooding Jr., who is his son. She’s managed by Nancy Sanders.