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Tamahori has ‘Basic’ instinct for Phoenix

Mini-major intends to fast track casting, lensing likely to start in January

Lee Tamahori is in final negotiations to helm the thriller “Basic” at Sony-based Phoenix Pictures.

Tamahori (“Once Were Warriors,” “The Edge”) is currently directing the Morgan Freeman starrer “Along Came a Spider” at Paramount Pictures.

Mike Medavoy, chairman and CEO of Phoenix, announced the deal late Thursday, and stressed that the mini-major intends to fast track casting on the pic, which he said would likely begin lensing in January.

The Writer’s Guild contract expires on May 1 and the Screen Actors Guild studio contract expires July 1; movies not in production by February would effectively need to stop midstream should a new contract agreement not be reached.

Deal also marks the first movie to be produced with the Phoenix-based Orbit Entertainment Group, a commercial production house with which Phoenix inked a three-year, first-look production deal in January. Orbit principals Dror Soref and Lee Nelson will produce, but more producers may still be added, according to Medavoy.

Phoenix director of development Brad Fischer brought the project into the company, and will supervise its production.

Arnold Messer, prexy of Phoenix, explained his choice of Orbit as producers by saying: “They have a feature background, too. Dror shot many movies in Israel, and Lee (Nelson) has a very knowledgeable production background. They’ve produced in very difficult circumstances, often in remote areas.”

The “Basic” script will be developed further by its author, James Vanderbilt, and by Tamahori, and will be shot on location in both Costa Rica and Panama.

“Basic” tells the story of a DEA agent who must investigate the disappearance of a legendary Army ranger drill instructor and several of his cadets during a training exercise gone severely awry.

Vanderbilt is repped by Endeavor and managed by Mikkel Bondesen; Tamahori is repped by International Creative Management and managed by Geyer Kosinski and Nick Wechsler at Industry Entertainment.

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