Arnold tops ‘Backcountry’ in Neufeld stable

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER IS DEVELOPING with producer Mace Neufeld a Paramount drama called “Backcountry,”which pits the action star against a survivalist who’s hiding out in a national park and murdering visitors. Matt Johnson wrote the script.

The project is one of several that Neufeld is producing and which has attracted A-list talent the producer has been in business with before. In the case of Schwarzenegger, the bond resulted from “Pathfinder,” a project that the actor flirted with, but ultimately did not do.

“When ‘Pathfinder’ didn’t work out, we agreed that if I found something, I’d call him and vice versa,” said Neufeld. “He found this script, called me, and Paramount bought it as a spec script. We’re going through a rewrite now, and if it turns out as exciting as we think, we’ll get a director.” Schwarzenegger’s William Morris agent Robert Stein had given the star the action script by WMA-repped scribe Johnson.

“Backcountry” is one of several films coming together at the same time for Neufeld, who last year ended a producing partnership with Robert Rehme. Still under an exclusive deal at Paramount, Neufeld is readying several big films, including “The General’s Daughter,” which ends a six-year development process of the Nelson DeMille novel today when production starts in Savannah, Ga. Simon West directs John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, James Woods, James Cromwell, Leslie Stafanson, Clarence Williams III and Timothy Hutton in the thriller.

“This book has franchise potential, which is one of the things I always look for when I buy a book, and the investigator character Travolta is playing could potentially drive another movie or two,” said Neufeld.

Neufeld has been lucky with book adaptations, dating back to the Tom Clancy-penned Jack Ryan series that has led to three hit movies. Paramount’s finally moving forward on Clancy’s “The Sum of All Fears” as the next Jack Ryan film, to star Harrison Ford.

Several other book options are landing A-list talent. Neufeld has Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson ready to star in “Asylum,” an adaptation of the Patrick McGrath novel that was scripted by Chris Baylis. Drama’s about the wife of the superintendent of an English insane asylum who risks her marriage, her career and maybe her life to engage in a torrid affair with an artist who was convicted of murdering his wife. Neeson and Richardson, married offscreen, will play the lovers who engage in the dangerous dalliance.

“It’s a brilliant book that we optioned very early, and I got a call from Liam and Natasha, who’d read it, wanted to option it, and found out I’d gotten there first,” said Neufeld. They met and teamed up.

Chuck Russell, who directed “The Mask” and “Eraser,” will direct the screen adaptation of the Cathy Cash Spellman supernatural thriller “Bless the Child,” about three generations of women in a family who confront a Biblical prophecy and set in motion an apocalyptic war between good and evil. The script was written by Clifford and Ellen Green, and Don Roos (“The Opposite of Sex”) has been brought in to do a rewrite before casting begins.

After working with Phillip Noyce on “Patriot Games” and “Clear and Present Danger,” Neufeld is back in business with Noyce once again. They’ve teamed on “Cold, Cold Heart,” an adaptation of the James Elliot novel that Mark Montgomery will write. Neufeld is producing, with Kathleen McLoughlin co-producing and Howard Kazanjian and Craig Darien exec producing.

Neufeld’s next film to make it to production will most likely be “Pathfinder,” the high action script by George Nolfi. “Twister” director Jan De Bont will helm the espionage thriller.

“We’re hoping to start by November at the latest,” said Neufeld. “We are casting the two stars.”

SIX DAYS, SEVEN NIGHTS, ONE REWRITE: Former “Saturday Night Live” writer Mike McCullers is already making a name for himself after co-writing, with Mike Myers, a sequel to “Austin Powers: Inter-national Man of Mystery”: The script has New Line readying a greenlight. Now he’s gotten his first big shot at a high-paying week of rewrite. They say timing is everything in comedy. Well, the scribe took a one-week punchup job on the Disney film “Inspector Gadget,” but for this comedy writer, the timing couldn’t be worse.

He got married last weekend and jetted off to a Hawaiian honeymoon, planning to do his “Gadget” work as well. McCullers will finish both the work and the honeymoon this week. He may find that evenings in the balmy getaway can be cold when half a honeymooning couple takes rewrite work with him. McCullers is repped by William Morris’s Ramses IsHak and 3 Arts’ David Miner.

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