Imagine Entertainment has set up the romantic drama “Golden Gate” at Universal, a project designed to reteam “Apollo 13″ co-star Bill Paxton with director Ron Howard. Audrey Wells is writing the script, and Brian Grazer will produce.

The project is a love story set in S.F. during the erection of one of the country’s most famous bridge spans. Paxton would play a man who heads west to be part of history by joining the crew.

The construction of the project began on the set of Disney’s “Mighty Joe Young.” Wells, who wrote “The Truth About Cats and Dogs,” was doing a rewrite of the ape picture, and she and Paxton got to talking about the concept. The idea was hatched by Paxton with co-producers Tom Huckabee and Chris Kobin, and Wells turned it into a pitch.

Paxton brought it to Howard, who’s a collector of photos of the construction of famous bridges and buildings. Imagine execs Karen Kehela and Michael Bostick heard the pitch, and Grazer bought it and set it up at Universal. It will be a co-production between Imagine and American Entertainment Co., Paxton’s production company.

Wells now will turn it into a script, with little reason to hurry. Howard, who’s completing “Ed TV” with Matthew McConaughey, has committed to make “Sea Wolf” his next directing effort at Columbia with Nicolas Cage starring. Paxton’s managed by Brian Swardstrom of InHouse Ent. Wells is repped by Endeavor.

“GOING DOWN” ON THE UPSWING: While Madonna has scratched plans for a legit “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and is deciding among three movies that include co-starring with Rupert Everett in “The Next Best Thing,” she has a certain film engagement this fall. It’s as producer, as her Madguy label will put its first film into production in New York. It’s the Jennifer Bell novel “Going Down,” the story of an NYU student who becomes a prostitute to pay her tuition.

Christina Booth, whose short film “Norma’s Lament” played at the Sundance Film Festival, was hired to adapt and direct the film, which is being produced by Madonna, Guy Oseary and Caresse Norman. Booth has some affinity to the topic: While she waited for her break in film, she wrote for mags like Hustler.

It’s unclear whether Madonna will play any of the other small roles, but they’re looking for an actress to play the 18-year-old student. They’re now streetwalking for distributors and will likely consummate a deal this week. Booth is managed by Dannielle Thomas.

FAMILY AFFAIR LEADS TO PRIZE, INVITE: “This Is My Father” has won the first-feature award at the Galway Film Festival and an invite to the Toronto Film Fest. The pic stars Aidan Quinn, is written and directed by his brother Paul, with brother Declan Quinn the director of photography and the three brothers exec producing.

“It was an amazing night, because there’s a documentary being made about the making of this film, and the producers flew our parents, Mike and Teresa, over as a surprise,” said Aidan. His sister Marian had a short in the fest, and was also in attendance.

The film was made on a shoestring with a cast that includes James Caan, John Cusack, Stephen Rea and Colm Meaney, but Quinn said they’re in no hurry to sign with a distributor. “We’ll try to get into Venice and New York, and we’ve had some distribution offers, but weren’t happy with them. We’ll wait.” Quinn just wrapped the Griffin Dunne-directed Warner Bros. film “Practical Magic,” starring alongside Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman.

A.J. STILL STANDING: More than a year after the Hot Copy gossip column he worked on was silenced by Daily News editor Pete Hamill, A.J. Benza not only has retained his swagger, he’s gotten acting work and a book deal with Miramax.

Benza was a colorful Gotham gossip who, rumor had it, got whacked because the editor suspected Benza was using his newsprint to shag supermodels. Still, Benza was considered a guilty pleasure by most other Gotham gossips and journos.

Benza has moved to L.A., where he hosts the E! show “Mysteries and Scandals,” and he’s become a working actor, just completing his fourth and biggest role in “Not Even the Trees,” the first production under Steven Seagal and partner Jules Nasso’s Seagal-Nasso shingle. “The part’s insane,” said Benza. “I’m shooting heroin, smoking drugs, I’ve got a wild sex scene, I’m getting into fights.”

He’s also writing for Harvey Weinstein a semiautobiographical novel. This is the kid who couldn’t get past the velvet rope who suddenly has the hot table in the restaurant waiting for him every night,” said Benza. “The weekend I got fired I was covering the Oscars and ran into Harvey Weinstein, told him I got fired, and he said, ‘Shake my hand, you’ll write a book for me and you’ll be fine.’ I knew I could have shopped it around, but when the prettiest girl at the prom asks you to dance, you dance.”

Benza was repped by William Morris’ Chris Fenton and Mel Berger, with Steven Fenton managing him.

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