Emmerich taking helm

Mel Gibson is negotiating to star in “Patriot,” the Revolutionary War drama that will be directed by Roland Emmerich for Columbia.

“Saving Private Ryan” scribe Robert Rodat wrote the script and Mutual Film partners Mark Gordon and Gary Levinsohn are producing with Emmerich’s Centropolis partner, Dean Devlin. If talks work out, Gibson could be firing his musket by summer.

Gibson began considering the picture two weeks ago, after he decided to postpone his plans to direct the Terry Hayes-scripted adaptation of the Ray Bradbury classic novel “Fahrenheit 451″ for logistical reasons and a scheduling conflict for his hoped-for star, Brad Pitt. “Patriot” emerged as the strongest contender for that vacant slot, and Gibson has met with the director, producers and Columbia president Amy Pascal.

The lead is a family man and civilian who becomes a reluctant but ultimately fierce warrior. He’s reminiscent of the William Wallace character of “Braveheart,” which won Oscars for best picture and best director (Gibson). If his ICM rep Ed Limato can come to terms with Columbia over the next few days, Gibson will work with Emmerich and Rodat to get the script ready while the producers work out the logistics of staging the American Revolution for a summer shoot. The film’s being eyed as a major summer 2000 release.

The script was hatched at Columbia by Rodat for Gordon and Levinsohn, who produced “Saving Private Ryan” with Steven Spielberg and Ian Bryce.Columbia then brought in Emmerich and Devlin, even though the German-born director seemed a curious choice to helm a film about the formation of America. The duo did “Independence Day” and “Godzilla,” and “Patriot” is an interesting challenge for them. Their past films were mostly special effects-heavy popcorn fare where the money was spent onscreen and not on talent. This will be their first opportunity to make a film with an actor who’s among the biggest stars in the world, and who commands $20 million a film.

Gibson will next be seen in “Payback,” which Paramount opens Friday. He will soon take a small role as a gruff detective in “The Million Dollar Hotel,” which Wim Wenders is directing. That film is being produced by Icon, which is Gibson’s partnership with Bruce Davey.

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