Jersey bags ‘Babylon’; H’wood mob parodied

NEW YORK — In what will be Jersey Television’s first dramatic series project since John Landgraf ankled NBC to ramp up production as Jersey TV prexy, screenwriter Shane Salerno has signed to create, script and executive produce “Babylon,” a one-hour drama set up at 20th Century Fox, where Jersey TV has its first-look deal.

They’ll shop it to networks in early September, with Jersey Film partners Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher producing in association with Salerno’s shingle, Chasing Time Pictures.

While not tipping the full details, Salerno said the drama sets to “explore the shifting fates and collisions that occur in the lives of a group of celebrities in their 20s. The writing style I want to use originated with the new journalism of the ’60s and ’70s, with practitioners like Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote and Hunter Thompson,” Salerno said.

While Salerno’s got just one produced feature credit, it’s the Michael Bay-helmed blockbuster “Armageddon,” and the 26-year old scribe has more big projects pending with major A-list directors than most writers his age. That includes “Shaft Returns,” the John Singleton-directed drama at Paramount starring Samuel L. Jackson, “Night Train,” the William Friedkin-directed Sonny Liston biopic at Paramount to star Ving Rhames, an untitled drama for “Heat” helmer Michael Mann at Touchstone, the epic “Bay of Pigs” at Imagine to be directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer; and “Thunder Below,” Salerno’s first script, still in development with Steven Spielberg and Walter Parkes at DreamWorks.

Landgraf, who last week set up a Jersey TV comedy built around the troupe Broken Lizard, said Jersey Films will look to pull feature helmers to do episodes of “Babylon,” and hopes the music-driven drama results in a soundtrack for Jersey Records. “The goal is to be selective and do TV shows that have the values of Jersey features like ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Out of Sight,’ and I’ve tracked Shane for awhile because of his point of view and commercial instinct,” Landgraf said. “He’s exploded on the feature side, but pitched me this the moment I started this job. It fits that profile.”

Despite his busy bigscreen schedule, Salerno’s scripting the pilot and will be a hands on exec producer. With 20th TV aboard, they’ll try to hook a web deal. Salerno’s repped by CAA and attorney Robert Offer.

‘SCRIPTFELLAS’ PARODIES MOB: While USC Film School grad Sanford Bookstaver toiled the last three years as Jeffrey Katzenberg’s assistant at DreamWorks, he dreamed of directing a short film good enough to show his boss his skills went well beyond supervising a callsheet and making coffee. Even before his ICM agents disperse cassettes of the Bookstaver-directed 36-minute short “Scriptfellas” to studio heads around Hollywood today, Bookstaver’s DreamWorks dream is fast becoming reality.

Katzenberg flipped for it and gave it to Steven Spielberg, who loved it; now Bookstaver’s days as the Golden Retriever’s golden retriever are over. He quit his job two weeks ago, having been promised a DreamWorks feature to direct.

He wrote “Scriptfellas” with Darin Moiselle, with both fascinated at how short comedies like “George Lucas in Love,” “Peep Show” and “Saving Ryan’s Privates” got wannabees meetings with agents, executives, and, in the case of “Peep Show,” a series deal. “We’d seen all the parodies, but felt you just can’t show off your filmmaking skills in three to eight minutes,” said Bookstaver. “We set out to make the first truly epic film short, one with a three-act structure, essentially a feature in 30 minutes.”

The requisite parody element led them to the gangster classic “Goodfellas,” which the short faithfully replicates as it tells the story of a guy who rises from production assistant to assistant to the fulfillment of his dream, which, said Bookstaver, “is losing his soul to become a sleazy development exec.” The “Goodfellas” touches are many, including Paul Sorvino reprising his godfatherly Paulie role, this time as a studio boss instead of mob boss.

As for the real studio boss, Katzenberg let Bookstaver sweat a bit before delivering the rave. “I finished the film at 5 a.m. on a Saturday, raced over and put it in Jeffrey’s mailbox, then waited by the phone,” Bookstaver said. “I missed one phone call and finally got him at 5:30 p.m. Monday. It was a rough weekend.”

Bookstaver has signed with ICM’s Todd Feldman and Nick Reed, and attorney Jeff Frankel of Colden & McKuin, who’ll now look to get the short on the fest circuit. Co-scribe Moiselle is managed by Warren Zide.

KERSLAKE GOES ‘COSMIC’: After directing videos for the likes of Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kevin Kerslake has been widely sought for feature duty. He’s found a hot project, but only after applying for a job directing a documentary on the unlikely bond between Wu Tang Clan leader RZA and Shi Yan Ming. The latter is an honest to goodness Shaolin Temple monk in his 30s who defected from China in 1992 and met RZA when he formed a Temple in New York. The docu was scrapped, when, Kerslake said, “I came up with a better idea.”

That idea is “Cosmic Funk and the Temple of Groove,” a feature that will star that unlikely duo and be directed by Kerslake. He set it up at Artisan under Jon Shestack, with Janet Yang and Lisa Henson of Manifest Ent. and Sophia Chang producing. They’ll hire a writer to draft an actioner involving the reincarnation of two 13th Century Shaolin monks in the 20th Century. Kerslake’s repped by Endeavor, Jeff Graup of Graup Ent. and attorney Doug Stone.

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