LAS VEGAS — As studio execs shriek about seven-figure-salary actors who don’t open movies, more are embracing the less expensive “Scream” teens who are signing up for horror movies and using their TV popularity with young moviegoers to carry films. This new twist is evident in film pacts just struck for Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brandy and Jared Leto.
In a deal just coming together, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” star Gellar is signing to topline the New Regency romantic comedy “The Magic Hour,” which marks the directing debut of producer Mark Tarlov, and the second feature Gellar has committed to star in during her show hiatus.
At the same time, Brandy, star of the hit UPN series “Moesha” and the ABC ratings hit “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella,” is trading slippers for slashers, closing a deal to star in the sequel to “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”
And Phoenix Pictures has greenlit and signed Leto to star in “Urban Legend,” a fresh entry into the “Scream”-genre market about kids on a college campus who begin falling prey to those apocryphal tales passed along as gossip, like the baby alligator flushed down the toilet who wreaks havoc in the sewer. Leto, who co-starred in the TV series “My So-Called Life,” also toplined “Prefontaine” and is featured in the Phoenix-produced “The Thin Red Line.”
“Urban Legend” will be directed by Jamie Blanks from a script by Silvio Horta, with Don Roos (“Single White Female”) doing a production polish. Managers Cynthia Pett-Dante and Andrea Pett-Joseph made the deals along with UTA, with Phoenix repped by execs Rick Hess, Nick Osbore and Christy Prunier.
Youngsters Gellar, Brandy and Leto are making good six-figure salaries, but they’re bargains compared to a lot of older actors, who get gross deals but don’t always open films. And the horror genre is proving a strong starting point for screen careers.
For the “Summer” sequel, Brandy’s ICM rep Eddy Yablans closed a deal for her to co-star with returning stars Jennifer Love Hewitt (herself a TV vet of Fox’s “Party of Five”), Freddie Prinze Jr. and Muse Watson.
Gellar graduated from the first installment of that horror hit, getting her pick of film roles and settling on two that are far from fright fare. When “Buffy” goes on hiatus, Gellar starts work in TriStar’s “Cruel Inventions,” a modern retelling of “Dangerous Liaisons” starring Gellar, Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe, which the studio is hyping this week at ShoWest even before a frame is shot. Then she’ll go right into “Magic Hour,” which is described as a “Moonstruck” with supernatural elements. She inherits a restaurant in which magical things occur. The film’s produced by Jon Amiel and John Siedler.
Gellar turned down leads in six other films to take the role. Gellar’s deal was made by ICM’s JoAnne Colonna, manager Booh Schut and lawyer Deborah Klein.
Another young thesp traveling the “Scream” route to stardom is Katie Holmes of “Dawson’s Creek.” Holmes, managed by David Guillod, is near a deal to co-star with Helen Mirren in “Killing Mrs. Tingle,” which marks Kevin Williamson’s directing debut. Holmes turned down several films to work with Williamson, who hatched “Scream,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Dawson’s Creek.”
ROSENMAN, LANCIT DRAW ‘SUIT’: Howard Rosenman, who produced the screen version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Father of the Bride,” is joining forces with Lancit Media Entertainment and Fox 2000 to adapt the Pulitzer Prize-winning David Small children’s book “Fenwick’s Suit” into a feature film.
Rosenman will produce with Lancit’s David Michaels and Cecily Truett. John August, whose credits include “How to Eat Fried Worms” and “A Wrinkle in Time,” is writing the script. The book’s the story of an executive who thrives when he wears a certain suit, until the suit decides it doesn’t need the man to do the job. Craig Emanuel of Tenenbaum Emanuel Fleer repped the producers.
FAST FOOD SHAKESPEARE: Maura Tierney, soon to be seen in “Primary Colors,” will star in “McBeth’s,” a contemporized retelling of the Shakespeare play that’s set in a small-town fast-food eatery. The script, by first-time scribe Billy Morrissette, was optioned by Bandeira Entertainment, and will be produced by Beau Flynn and co-produced by Morrissette and Tierney’s 3 Arts manager Raelle Koota.
Tierney’s now shooting “Instinct” for Jon Turteltaub at Touchstone and then will topline the Richard Shepard-directed indie “Oxygen,” which she’ll produce with Shepard, Koota and Mark Butan of the Hollywood Stock Exchange, the latter of whom set up the financing. Tierney’s repped by William Morris’ Peter Levine and Nicole David.
SHORT-FORM DEAL: Disney-based Sonnenfeld/Josephson has optioned its third property in the four months since hatching a Gotham lit office. The latest deal is “Follow Me,” a short story by Paul Griner from a collection published by Random House in 1996.
At 19 pages, it amounts to a great setup and first act. A photographer rises to the top of her game as she disregards the effect her photos have on her subjects. The tables are turned on her when she hires a detective to make a photographic documentation of her. Strange events begin to occur, to the point where her career is disrupted.
They’re looking to hire a writer to flesh out the piece. Gotham-based exec Jason Anthony and Caroline Andoscia brought it to Touchstone. Sonnenfeld/Josephson also optioned the Jeff Rovin novel “Vespers,” and the Rodney Sheldon book “Chippendales,” which Sonnenfeld hopes to direct.