C-2 'Terminator' redos will be back-to-back

NEW YORK — If Mario Kassar and Andy Vajna have their way, the Terminator’s signature line will be slightly altered to: “I’ll be back-to-back.”

More than two years after spending $8 million to buy the underlying rights of the “Terminator” franchise in the Carolco Pictures bankruptcy auction, Kassar and Vajna have baptized their C-2 Pictures banner by formalizing plans to simultaneously develop the third and fourth installments of the “Terminator” film series.

They intend to film “Terminator 3″ next year for release in 2001 and prep the fourth shortly thereafter. At the same time, they expect to broaden the franchise with deals involving Internet and interactive companies that have sparked to the notion of continuing the franchise.

Kassar and Vajna plan to make the films whether or not Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as the cyborg he played in the first two installments, and despite the fact James Cameron, who co-wrote the original with Gale Anne Hurd and directed both installments, has said that he will not return.

C-2 has not only hired two screenwriters, but it has also hired former United Artists creative executive James Middleton as senior vice president whose sole role is to spearhead the development of the two scripts and have them ready by next spring. At that time, C-2 will either set them up to be financed with a domestic studio or raise the financing independently in the foreign marketplace. Middleton becomes the fourth executive at C-2, which is based in the graffiti-covered Santa Monica headquarters that once housed Vajna’s Cinergi. Kassar and Vajna run the company along with production head Joel Michaels, a longtime ally of the duo who ran Kassar’s company at Paramount and who produced such films as “Lolita, “Stargate” and “Universal Soldier.”

“Terminator 3″ will be written by Tedi Sarafian, who wrote the MGM film “Metalheads,” while “Terminator 4″ will be written by David Wilson, whose credits include the upcoming UA sci-fi film “Supernova” and the “Rollerball” remake at MGM. Sarafian was repped by Jeff Field and attorney Peter Nichols, while Wilson was repped by ICM’s Todd Feldman and Doug McClaren.

The move by Kassar and Vajna is the latest twist to capitalize on the success of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” which grossed more than $500 million worldwide and spawned a hugely popular 3-D attraction at the Orlando, Fla., and L.A. Universal Studios theme parks.

The project has been the source of many rumors, going back to the bankruptcy auction. At that time, Cameron and Schwarzenegger were believed to be interested in reteaming on a third film at Fox until Kassar and Vajna swooped in to buy the half share of the rights that wasn’t owned by Hurd.

Kassar and Vajna have bought Hurd’s half of the film, and a Fox deal again seemed imminent, but again faltered as Kassar and Vajna brought in Japan-based Toho as an investor. More rumors surfaced that Universal would develop the property. Kassar, known as a risk taker, said C-2 decided rather than worry about which creatives and studios are in or out, it would be better to just solidify concepts and scripts first.

“I don’t know if you can ever equal the first two films, because James Cameron is a genius, but we’re going to do our best, use the best special effects houses, and really surprise people with the creative stories that are great and have the twists and turns the audience expects,” said Kassar, who produced and financed “Terminator 2″ at Carolco after acquiring the rights from Hemdale.

“I think we’re on the right course, and I know there has been all this curiosity, people wondering if Mario and Andy would be at Fox or someplace else. There were a lot of negotiations going on and some studios wanted this, others wanted that. We said, that’s great, but we went into this to make this movie and revitalize the franchise, and finally said, let’s just get started. We wrote the checks, let’s proceed. I feel very confident.

“And remember that ‘T2′ was much the same. Being an indie, Carolco was under the microscope, and people said it was on course to be the most expensive movie and it would put Carolco out of business. Looking back, it was worth every risk, and I don’t know anybody who lost money on it. Everybody made a lot of money on it.”

Kassar still holds out hope that Schwarzenegger might return. “I’d love for Arnold to be in it, but we’re not at that point yet,” Kassar said.

A call to Schwarzenegger’s William Morris agent Robert Stein elicited only a firm “I won’t discuss Arnold or any other client’s business in the press.”

Michaels and Middleton saidtheir concern is to carry on the themes Cameron fleshed out in the first two films.

“The first two movies offer an excellent road map for sequels which respect what James Cameron created, and we want to emulate the themes and elements of the first two movies,” Michaels said.

One major difference: whereas “T2″ ended peacefully, there will be a war in the third film.

” ‘T3′ will be present-day, 2001, about the first engagement between Skynet and humans, and be about the beginning of the war,” Middleton said. “The fourth movie is going to be set in the future, after the nuclear conflagration has ended. The setting will be that apocalyptic world you saw in both of the first two films. The third will lead you into the fourth, and John Connor will be the lead in both of those movies, which follow and expend his character. There will be a protector Terminator, and an antagonist machine.”

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