Jonze may direct Col pic

Screenwriter Charles Kaufman has managed to turn writer’s block into a script for Columbia Pictures.

Helmer Jonathan Demme’s Universal-based Clinica Estetica Prods. had optioned Susan Orlean’s nonfiction tome “The Orchid Thief,” first published by Random House in January — and had shopped around the idea for a movie based on it.

Now, the project has been set up at Columbia Pictures, and Spike Jonze, helmer of Kaufman’s “Being John Malkovich” and multiple Beastie Boys musicvideos, is in talks to helm the pic.

Orlean, a journo at the New Yorker, penned “Thief” after writing a piece on the trial of John Laroche, a manager at a plant nursery for the Seminole tribe of Hollywood, Fla. The obsessive, eccentric Laroche was arrested along with three tribesmen in 1994 for stealing endangered species of orchids.

That, however, is hardly the story that the “Being John Malkovich” scribe returned with. Having struggled with the adaptation of Orlean’s book, he gave into writer’s block and made that the story instead.

Kaufman even went so far as to invent “a brother,” Donald, putting his name on the cover of the script and dedicating the manuscript to him.

But even as several prominent Hollywood talent agents have sought out Donald Kaufman (one even sagely proclaiming that Donald had since died), an insider explained that Donald never died because he had, in fact, never been born: Donald is a figment of Charles Kaufman’s imagination.

And so the “Orchid” script that Columbia is now developing centers on a screenwriter hired to adapt a nonfiction book who is rapidly becoming unhinged as it becomes clear that he is unable to perform the task, enlisting his “brother” to help him.

The new “Orchid” script does employ several scenes and storylines drawn from Orlean’s work, centering on her efforts to chronicle Laroche’s swampy foibles.

Col execs Amy Baer and Rachel O’Connor are understood to be supervising the project.

Kaufman is repped by United Talent Agency, Jonze by Creative Artists Agency.

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