Taymor tackles ‘Titus’; Lion goes ‘Straight’

OCTOBER FILMS HAS closed a deal for Albert Brooks to direct and star in “Muse,” in which Brooks will turn his sights on the filmmaking process. Coming on the heels of Anjelica Huston’s deal to star in and direct “The Mammy,” the Brooks pact is indicative of October’s efforts to step up the caliber of directors being brought into the fold.

“Albert is an elite, quintessential American filmmaker,” said Scott Greenstein, who made the deal with October partners Bingham Ray and John Schmidt. “It’s a classic Albert effort, a script of such unique quality that this is a movie that should be equally at home in arthouse and mainstream circles.”

“The Muse,” which Brooks wrote with Monica Johnson, is described as a wry comedy in which Brooks plays a Hollywood screenwriter down on his luck who finds a real live muse living in Los Angeles. The film will be produced by Herb Nanas, and October has pacted with Good Machine Intl. to broker foreign rights.

Brooks last directed “Mother,” the Paramount comedy that brought Debbie Reynolds back to the screen for the first time in two decades. Brooks is repped by ICM’s Toni Howard, Jim Wiatt and Andy Reif.

TAMER TAYMOR HERDING “TITUS” CAST: After taming Broadway with her acclaimed adaptation of “The Lion King,” Julie Taymor is herding together what could be an outstanding cast for “Titus,” the film version of her stage production of Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus.” Dish hears that Anthony Hopkins, Kristin Scott Thomas and John Turturro are all hovering around the film. Overseas Film Group set up the pic and is selling foreign territories. Dish hears that Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen also is an investor. While a Shakespeare adaptation seems a risky venture, Taymor’s “King” conquest makes her difficult to bet against.

LETHAL GOES POSTAL: “Lethal Weapon 4” wrapped yesterday, and while rumors abound that the film’s budget has gone far past the century mark, the hard and fast facts are that the film now faces a post-production schedule that consists of the time it would take for Stanley Kubrick to film a single scene. “Lethal Weapon” opens July 10, which leaves the filmmakers eight weeks to edit and score the picture. But the movie has to be ready three weeks before that, because it will be first seen at a junket on June 24. Sources close to the film said director Richard Donner and producer Joel Silver have done this before, and since they’ve tried to edit as they shot the film, it is feasible. (WB also did it successfully on “The Fugitive,” which didn’t have a solidly set script when production began.) Mel Gibson then moves on to prepping “Fahrenheit 451,” which he’ll definitely direct and might still star in this fall, now that Tom Cruise, whom Gibson offered the lead, seems poised instead to do the “Mission: Impossible” sequel with John Woo at Paramount.

STRAIGHT UP’ PROJECT LANDS AT MGM: Producer Howard (Hawk) Koch Jr. and director Michele Ohayon have made an MGM deal to develop her acclaimed documentary “Colors Straight Up” as a feature. The docu, which was Oscar-nominated and received both an Independent Spirit and a Directors Guild Award, is about inner-city kids from South Central Los Angeles who find alternatives to gangs and drugs through a performing arts program called Colors United. The docu covers a group of kids as they put together a performance, and shows how founders Phil Simms and Kingston DuCoeur teach the kids values and provide support and encouragement. Koch and Ohayon took the project to MGM president Michael Nathanson, who put it in development; production VP Yalda Tehranian will steer the project. Ohayon will direct a script being written by Bob Dolman, whose credits include “Far and Away” and “The Willow,” and who happens to be a volunteer for Colors United.

“It’s a story of the inner city that shows there is a way out through the performing arts, a way to gain self dignity and confidence,” Ohayon said. “I made the documentary because I was tired and fed up with the way South Central and Watts was portrayed, only about gang-banging, drug-dealing and drive-by shootings. There are other people out there who lead normal lives and want to succeed. You don’t have to be a basketball player to get out. But we don’t get to see any other kind of role models.”

Koch said Ohayon spent three years making her documentary, the first gaining the trust of the kids and the program before she shot a foot of film.

The kids have to maintain a 2.2 average to stay in the group, which boasts a 100% high school graduation rate. Koch, who produced films from such first-time feature directors as Warren Beatty, Taylor Hackford, Robert Benton and Greg Hoblit, said Ohayon is ready to make the jump to a studio film. She’s agented by Marjorie Skouras of Writers & Artists, and lawyered by Todd Stern.

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