Producer Scott Rudin has made a mid-six-figure deal to turn Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Hours” into a feature.

Rudin bought it with his own money, and not that of his home base Paramount, even though he seems to be producing a majority of the fall movies on the studio’s slate. He’ll develop it and worry about distribution later.

That’s the pattern he and David Brown used with Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer-winning memoirs “Angela’s Ashes,” which they placed at Par. Director Alan Parker has wrapped the pic, which will be one of four Rudin productions to bow before year’s end.

“The Hours” was published last year by Farrar Strauss Giroux, but it’s not an easy movie to make. The work, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel “Mrs. Dalloway,” is about three characters in different eras related only by a parallel in their personal lives.

One is Woolf herself, as she works on that novel in 1923; an L.A. housewife and expectant mother in 1949 ponders her depressing existence as she reads Woolf’s novel while planning a party for her husband; and a New York woman plans a party for her now-AIDS-inflicted former boyfriend, who had nicknamed her “Mrs. Dalloway” years ago.

Also on Rudin’s 1999 release slate are two other pics from complicated novels: Michael Chabon’s “Wonder Boys” which Curtis Hanson directed starring Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr.; and Joseph Connelly’s “Bringing Out the Dead,” which Martin Scorsese directed with Nicolas Cage. The fourth is the Tim Burton-directed “Sleepy Hollow” with Johnny Depp.

Rudin’s about to start “Shaft” with Samuel L. Jackson and director John Singleton. Cunningham was repped in the book deal by Michael Siegel of Brillstein-Grey.

McTIERNAN’S SOFT SIDE: While the newly constituted MGM is trying to turn around a rough streak, the studio’s gotten a bona fide booster in helmer John McTiernan, who has just set up his fourth project there.

Aside from a remake of “Rollerball” and plans to make films out of the Quiller mystery novels, McTiernan has set up a project on which he’s collaborating with Elissa Wald, a writer of erotic fiction. While the plot’s a secret, McTiernan said it is squarely in that world she inhabits and is a “sexy love story kind of thing.”

He is also excited about the prospects for an MGM update of “Rollerball.” “It’s the hockey game from hell, and after updating a classic for an adult audience, I’m looking forward to bringing another geared to a younger audience,” he said at the Southampton preem of his sexy caper pic for MGM, “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

For a director best known for wielding heavy hardware in films like “Die Hard,” McTiernan has crafted a decidedly different film in his remake of “Thomas Crown.”

” ‘Thomas Crown’ is my favorite movie since ‘The Hunt for Red October,’ ” said McTiernan. “The studio understood this was an adult love story and let me tell it, much like the people involved with that earlier piece realized ‘Hunt for Red October’ was ‘Treasure Island’ and not some nuclear missile film, which is why it worked.

“The caper in this movie is a guy stealing the girl’s heart, not stealing a painting.”

MGM opens it Friday; it was moved by Chris McGurk, who joined the studio from Universal and remembered how “Out of Sight” suffered when tossed into a June slot last summer, whee it was creamed by the blockbusters.

McTiernan said he is entirely comfortable making his next several films at MGM, because they let him make the movie he wants to. He was less enthused talking about another film he’s got coming out: the long-gestating adaptation of Michael Crichton’s “Eaters of the Dead,” now called “The 13th Warrior.”

He preferred not to comment about it, other than to confirm he’d dropped out of directing another Crichton adaptation, “Airframe,” for which Disney paid a near record sum several years ago.

McTiernan was joined at the Southampton bash by a phalanx of Hollywoodites, including his AMG rep Mike Menchel.

TOUGH CHOICES: The box office chart ranking weekend grossers like “Runaway Bride” and “The Blair Witch Project” leave out that the salaries and gross participations of “Bride” mean it needs a huge dowry of several big weekends to make money, while the dirt-cheap “Witch” is on course to rival “American Graffiti” as one of the most profitable films in history. Despite some strong summer grosses, studio execs continue to grouse that star salaries make many big-grossing films loss leaders — a condition that will continue until studios start saying no.

But that’s exactly what happened this weekend on the Joel Schumacher-directed Paramount/Lakeshore remake of the French thriller “L’Appartement,” which seemed nearly cast last week — until falling apart because Brendan Fraser wanted $10 million and Kate Winslet $5 million.

Fraser got $4 million on “The Mummy” and Winslet got a fraction of that for “Titanic,” so it’s natural they’d want hikes after those successes. But that would have pushed “L’Appartement’s” price tag from over $30 million to north of $50 million, since Schumacher’s agreement to cut his price would have been rescinded.

Lakeshore held fast on much lower offers, and Fraser found another pic in a heartbeat, getting $10 million to join Jennifer Lopez in “The Wedding Planner.” Lakeshore and Schumacher are now wooing Freddie Prinze Jr., who hopes this will be his “Gods and Monsters” and who’ll cost no more than $2 million. They’re hoping Winslet stays in the picture at a more modest fee.

William Morris, which reps both Fraser and Winslet, said only that Fraser passed on “Apartment,” and that no deal had yet closed with Winslet.

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