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‘Commitments’ encore gets Leight touch

NEW YORK — Miramax has committed “Side Man” playwright Warren Leight to script a sequel to “The Commitments,” the 1991 Alan Parker-directed film about a band of Dublin youths who formed a soul band. Cathy Konrad will produce.

The original, made by Beacon Communications, became a cult favorite and spawned sequel expectations, all of which fell flat. That was until Miramax chairman Harvey Weinstein picked up the rights and assigned it to Konrad, who produced the “Scream” trilogy.

It’s unclear whether Parker will return. Leight’s just getting underway, but the idea is to bring back some of the original cast, who by the end of the first film had their dreams of glory dashed. The likely storyline will involve pairing some of the old faces with new ones, putting the band back together for a trip to America.

Andrew Strong, the original pic’s lead singer with the jet-engine lungs, made a few albums but has failed to break through, and several of the other members tour in a band called The Committed.

Leight, who has written numerous scripts including Miramax’s “The Night We Never Met,” seems a logical choice for the sequel, given the subject matter of “Side Man” — for which he won the Tony and is opening in London on the heels of its Broadway closing. It is the story of a musician who backs up a famous vocalist and never himself achieves fame. Since it was shaped by the experiences of Leight’s father, he knows the voice of a musician struggling to fulfill a dream.

The play was a sought-after film property before screen rights were ultimately optioned by Ron Kastner, a producer of the play. Miramax senior veep Michael Luisi negotiated the deal for Leight with his William Morris agent George Lane, and Miramax exec Robbie Brenner’s steering its development.

TRAVOLTA FOR “STEINBECK”?: John Travolta’s busy filming the Nora Ephron-directed “Numbers,” but he’s also moving toward locking in his next film for the spring. Dish hears the likely candidate is “Steinbeck’s Point of View,” the Warner Bros./Bel Air script by Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson that sold in a two-picture $4 million deal.

WB is keen on Travolta playing a man who must reconcile his coming death and has some supernatural intervention involving a plane crash victim to help him on the journey. The project’s being produced by Mark Johnson, Camp, Thompson and Bel Air’s Steve Reuther, and while Travolta has made no contractual commitment, sources say the parties are talking seriously about making it his next effort. Travolta sparked to the script after reading a bunch of contenders over the holidays.

If Travolta commits, he’ll become involved in naming the film’s director, all in time for the spring start date.

Travolta’s managed by Jonathan Krane and repped by William Morris.

FROM BESS TO ‘SHEILA’: Warner Bros. has made a two-picture deal with scribe John Hoffman that will start with a remake of the 1973 Herb Ross-directed WB comedy-mystery “The Last of Sheila.” The original kicks off when a Hollywood powerbroker gets killed in a hit and run accident; a year later, her husband hosts a yacht trip filled with possible suspects.

The original spawned a guessing game over the real Hollywood characters who inspired the characters.

Hoffman will get a mid-six figure fee to script the redo, plus another blind commitment for a second script that will pay him a comparable amount.

The writer’s “Talk of the Town” script, originally set up at New Regency, is now looking for a new home. But its lures include an interesting potential cast and $10 million budget. The project has caught the fancy of “Gods and Monsters” helmer Richard Condon, with Glenn Close poised to play Bess Myerson and “Sixth Sense” star Toni Collette eyeing the role of Sukhreet Gabel.

The script is about former Gotham Cultural Affairs commish Myerson and her trial on charges she gave a city job to the daughter of a judge who was ruling on alimony to be paid to Myerson. Myerson took the young woman under her wing and it proved a horrible embarrassment to her when the girl, Gabel, basked in the media limelight.

“The Last of Sheila” will be produced by Ted Demme and Joel Stillerman’s Spanky Pictures, and steered by WB exec Basil Iwanyk. Hoffman’s repped by ICM’s Todd Feldman and Chris Andrews and attorney Michael Gendler.

BRICK WALLS OFF ‘WHIRLIGIG’: Richard Brick, the former Gotham Film Commissioner who coproduced Woody Allen’s last three films including “Sweet and Lowdown,” has set out on his own and landed screen rights to “Whirligig,” a book by Paul Fleishman published by Henry Holt.

Fleischman, a Newberry Medal-winning author of 25 novels for young adults, has adapted the book himself. It’s the story of a high school junior who engages in a thoughtless act while trying to be accepted in a new town, an act which leads to the death of a girl. The teen then makes a journey of penance and self-discovery.

Under his Silo Cinema shingle, Brick hopes to attach a director and star before getting financing and a start date. Brick was repped by attorney Roger Arar, Fleischman was agented by Robert Goldfarb.

CBS BACKLISTS HARUF: Kent Haruf’s novel “Plainsong” was a finalist for the National Book Award and spent the past four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It has proven to be a boon for his out-of-print first novel, “The Tie That Binds.” The novel’s not only getting another shot at bookshelves from Knopf, it has resulted in a screen sale.

CBS, which recently optioned “Plainsong” for a telepic for low against mid-six figures, will pay the same amount for rights to “Tie,” a mystery about a town that covers up a murder committed by a woman who is a pillar of the community. The pic will be produced by Robert Greenwald (“The Burning Bed”). Haruf was repped in the screen deal by Sterling Lord Literistic’s Jody Hotchkiss, working with SLL lit agent Peter Matson.

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