Rydell sets his sights on Molina’s ‘Survivors’

MARK RYDELL HAS BEEN SET to helm “Survivors,” a period drama to star Alfred Molina, Sean Penn and Diane Lane. Based on a script by tyro scribe Peter Ulian, “Survivors” will be shopped this week to distributors with hopes of shooting next March.

“Survivors” revolves around gangster Mickey Cohen (Molina) and an unusual love triangle. Cohen hires a Hollywood writer (Penn) to come up with comic material for him, but when the writer falls in love with Cohen’s girlfriend (Lane), the gangster no longer finds his gag writer to be very funny.

The film is being produced by Molina and Joan Hyler — partners in Molina Hyler Scissors — and Rydell under his Concourse banner. It’s the first movie package put together by MHS, which was established at Sony when Molina and Hyler pacted there for “Ladies Man.” That CBS sitcom, starring Molina, will debut on the Eye web’s fall schedule in the 8:30 p.m. Monday slot.

Molina’s credits include “Boogie Nights,” the Dimension western “Texas Rangers,” and the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed “Magnolia.”

Penn just pacted to star in the Kathryn Bigelow-directed “Weight of Water,” while Lane is about to begin starring with George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly in the Wolfgang Petersen-directed “The Perfect Storm” at Warner Bros.

Ulian’s script was discovered by MHS development head Adam Gascoine; Rydell said they’ll formally anchor the project at a studio and hone the script. Rydell will next direct “Wild Horses” for J&M.

Rhonda Gomez of Broder Kurland Webb & Uffner repped Ulian; Molina and Lane are managed by Hyler and Penn is repped by William Morris. Attorney Stan Coleman repped Rydell and Lane. Lane’s repped by Endeavor while Rydell’s agented by David Gersh of the Gersh Agency.

REISER TAKES ‘NIGHT’ JOB: After a seven-season run in “Mad About You,” Paul Reiser’s refocused squarely on the bigscreen. Reiser, who’ll be seen in Rob Reiner-directed Castle Rock comedy “The Story of Us” with Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer, has just been set for “One Night at McCool’s,” the dark comedy for USA Films starring Matt Dillon, Liv Tyler and John Goodman, and directed by Harold Zwart. The film begins shooting this month in L.A.

Reiser’s also writing a screenplay for Reiner and Castle Rock based on his idea about a young man and his father who take to the road to solve some family mysteries. Reiser will star and produce. He’s repped by CAA and managed by Arthur Spivak of Spivak Ent.

WHICH ‘WITCH’ PACT IS REAL DEAL?: Did the five filmmakers behind “The Blair Witch Project” scare up the best screen deal since George Lucas sold “Star Wars” to Fox and got back the rights and the merchandising?

Artisan insists that its deal will enrich the participants only on a net profit basis; the company estimates that, with box office bumps and a low cost to distribute, the participants will split $20 million or so.

Artisan president Amir Malin quipped, “The greatest testament to Artisan is to have these five young filmmakers waving their checks in the air.”

But Dish hears the distrib might be using a witch’s broom to sweep details of the actual deal under the rug.

A number of normally impeccable sources say the filmmakers have a much stronger gross participation deal, and will share a windfall worthy of Powerball lottery winners. The deal’s complicated, but word is the share could be as high as half of gross receipts.

The pic should pass $100 million by this weekend, and if it meets the projected domestic gross of $150 million, the participants will way more than double the $20 million to which Artisan is copping.

This version of the story seems plausible. Despite the tale that every distrib walked out of the midnight premiere Sundance screening, three distribs were interested in buying the pic. Artisan, projecting the pic might gross $10 million, tops, offset a small upfront bid of $1.1 million with a high gross position that wouldn’t be a factor unless the pic overperformed.

No matter which “Witch” deal story is true, Artisan’s playing with house money: It makes a big profit, owns the negative of a runaway hit, and establishes itself as a hot indie which can market and distribute a hip film to blockbuster status, which is how Miramax distinguished itself from the pack early on.

DISHINGS: As Wes Craven directs “Scream 3,” ImageMovers has hired Laeta Kalogridis to adapt his debut Simon & Schuster novel, “The Fountain Society,” which Craven will direct next year. Kalogridis just did a polish on “Scream 3.” Craven’s evolution from horror to drama is certainly helped by the advance vibe on his “Music of the Heart,” the pic he directed about an inner-city violin teacher starring Meryl Streep for Miramax. Pic’s gotten the studio’s second best ever test scores behind “Good Will Hunting,” and will be going to the Venice Film Festival … Gotham-based Sonnenfeld/Josephson exec Jason Anthony has landed a deal for a book. It’s unusual in that he’ll be the one writing it and his employers aren’t involved. Anthony and Karl Cluck are writing “Debt Free by 30: Practical Advice for the Young, Broke and Upwardly Mobile.” It’s a guide to teach the younger set how to manage their money better and it improved Anthony’s financial situation when Dutton preempted the title based on a 75-page proposal. Tanya McKinnon of the Mary Evans Agency sold it.

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