Miramax to anchor ‘News’ with Col

Spacey sought to topline pic

Miramax Films has joined Columbia Pictures as a partner in “The Shipping News,” the Lasse Hallstrom-directed adaptation of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Annie Proulx.

Miramax officially came aboard thanks to an option the studio had on Hallstrom from “The Cider House Rules,” the film that earned Hallstrom a best director Oscar nomination and is contending for best picture honors.

Interestingly, both studios are chasing Kevin Spacey, who just won the Screen Actors Guild Award for his starring role in “American Beauty,” for the lead role in “Shipping News.” Sources close to Spacey maintain the film is among several aspirants for his next starring slot.

“The Shipping News” concerns a hard-luck newspaperman who survives an awful marriage to a wild woman who ran off with his two daughters and sold them into prostitution. The man saves the girls and moves with them to Newfoundland, where he takes a local newspaper job writing the shipping news and begins to find an identity for himself in the birthplace of his ancestors, discovering some dark family secrets along the way.

Though not an easy or overtly commercial adaptation, the prestige project is the kind of film that’s a magnet for Oscar nominations.

Check, please

Key to landing Spacey may be a willingness to stretch a tight budget. Though he’ll make millions from his gross participation in the sleeper “American Beauty,” Spacey starred in that film for a reduced upfront salary so the pic could be made for its $15 million budget.

Coming off the biggest film hit in his career, Spacey’s due a payday. Neither his camp, Col nor Miramax would comment on negotiations for “Shipping News,” which is produced by Irwin Winkler with Linda Goldstein and Leslie Halloran.

“The Shipping News” becomes the second high-profile literary adaptation on which Miramax and Columbia will have worked together. The studios are also partners on Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses,” a marriage made because Miramax had commitments from the film’s director, Billy Bob Thornton. Col balked last year, however, on Miramax becoming a partner on “Shanghai,” its epic with Phoenix Pictures. Col wanted “Shakespeare in Love” helmer John Madden, whom Miramax held under option. Miramax requested a partnership. But China is an important territory in Sony’s business plan, and the studio wanted no partner but Phoenix. The directing job went to Mike Newell.

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