‘Black 2’ will play beat the clock

NEW YORK — Despite the prospect of a SAG strike starting June 30, Columbia Pictures and Amblin Entertainment are making plans to start production on “Men in Black 2” on June 4.

Stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones will don the Ray-Bans for director Barry Sonnenfeld for as many shooting days as possible.

The studio is setting a course of action similar to the one that Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow Pictures are taking with their back-to-back sequels for “The Matrix.” That film’s Oakland shoot has been structured by directors Larry and Andy Wachowski to get round potential shutdown problems.

Columbia and Amblin will prioritize New York exterior shots and scenes that need special effects work. If a strike occurs, that footage can be worked on by the f/x crews who will be unaffected by either a writers or actors walkout.

Smith will be finished starring for Michael Mann in “Ali” by then, and Jones will have wrapped “The Hunted” for director William Friedkin and Lakeshore/Paramount. Sonnenfeld has finished shooting his latest film, the ensemble comedy “Big Trouble” for Disney.

COMICS TO TV COMMERCE: Comic book writer Scott Lobdell is meshing nicely with Hollywood, having set up his third TV series development project under a deal he signed with 20th TV. The latest is “None of the Above,” a concept he describes as the unlikely marriage between “Party of Five” and “Terminator 2.” The pilot will be written by Lobdell, “Beverly Hills 90210” veteran Chuck Rosin and Liz Heldens, who recently teamed with Rosin on the Fox pilot “Damaged Goods.”

Rosin and Heldens will run the new show if Fox picks it up. “It’s four kids from the future who come back to stop the ecolocaust, which is the breakdown of the earth’s ecological biosystem,” said Lobdell. “It’s a fish out of water character study with elements of action adventure.” The cast will be racially mixed: the title referring to the box each character checks for ethnicity, since such things are irrelevant in the ecologically challenged future.

Lobdell already set up his comic book creation “Ball and Chain,” a pilot by Howard Gordon and Molly Newman, about a married couple of superheroes who want to split, except that their powers only work when they’re together. Todd Holland, who recently won an Emmy directing the pilot of “Malcolm in the Middle,” is aboard to direct the pilot. And 20th is looking for a showrunner for Lobdell’s gameshow “Ambushed,” where contestants are ambushed in random places and quizzed for cash prizes.

APPLEGATE REINVENTION: After years as a TV staple on “Married … With Children” and “Jesse,” Christina Applegate recently signed with UTA to seek a movie career. She’s off to a good start. After starring with Cameron Diaz in “The Sweetest Thing” for director Roger Kumble and Sony, Applegate has landed the role of Gwyneth Paltrow’s rival in the Miramax comedy “A View From the Top,” a pic about flight attendants being directed by Bruno Barreto. Applegate’ll next be seen starring in the Disney pic “The Visitors,” directed by Jean-Marie Poire.

‘T3’ TALKS: No deal yet, says the camp of director John McTiernan, but recent visits to the set of “Rollerball” by Andy Vajna, who partners with Mario Kassar in C-2, has spurred expectations that McTiernan’s next job might be directing Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Terminator 3,” which Intermedia will co-finance. McT’s specialty is technically complex action pictures like “Die Hard,” so the Tedi Serafian-scripted “T3” should bring better results than the last McT-Arnie collaboration, “Last Action Hero.”

WRIGHT STUFF: Director Michael Mann continues to cast up “Ali,” bringing in Jeffrey Wright to play journo Howard Bingham, a close Ali pal. Wright rocked as the villain in “Shaft” this year.

SHRUGGING OFF “ATLAS” DELAYS: Forgive producer Al Ruddy for crowing that he’s got a finished script for the Turner miniseries adaptation of the Ayn Rand novel “Atlas Shrugged,” and is now looking for weighty stars and a director to start production shortly.

He’s been trying to adapt the book since, well, right after he produced “The Godfather,” and it’s been more than two decades since he followed that pic by getting Rand randy about a Paramount adaptation of her work that he told her would star Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway. “This thing’s been around longer than my Chrysler, but it blew up over a contractual point, her insistence on final script approval and I knew better, even though this book’s sold more hardbacks than the Bible,” said Ruddy. “There’s a 60-page speech, when John Galt says goodbye to America, and she’d have wanted it all in there.”

Ruddy and Rand parted with some acrimony. “I told her, ‘I’ll wait until you drop dead if I have to,’ and she said, ‘I’ll put it in my will that you’ll be the only person not doing it,’ ” said Ruddy, who added that the author was deathly afraid the Soviets would hijack any plane she took to discuss the book, or that they would buy Paramount just to derail the adaptation. But when her estate checked through her notes, Ruddy was told he’d been favorably depicted by the author, and Ruddy rejoined the project after UMC Holdings chairman John Aglialoro took the rights off the table in a seven-figure deal.

Ruddy said Rand, whose “The Fountainhead” is being developed by Warner Bros. as a vehicle for Oliver Stone, would have liked the script penned by Sue Black (who wrote the Ruddy-produced TNT pic “Running Mates” with Tom Selleck). The script has been endorsed by the Objectivist Center, flame keeper for Rand’s philosophies.

“SHIPPING” GETS NEW ORDERS: Director Lasse Hallstrom has brought in his “Chocolat” collaborator Robert Nelson Jacobs to do a rewrite of “The Shipping News,” the Hallstrom-directed Miramax adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Annie L. Proulx novel that will star Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore. The pic, about an emotionally beaten man who moves with his two young daughters to his ancestral home in Newfoundland to reclaim his life, has a March 2001 start date.

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