Barry Levinson is negotiating to direct Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton in “Outlaws.” The MGM romantic comedy is being co-financed by Hyde Park Entertainment, whose partners David Hoberman and Ashok Amritraj will produce along with Levinson’s partner, Paula Weinstein. Shooting starts in September.Levinson, who just directed the Irish comedy “An Everlasting Piece,” for DreamWorks, is near committing to make “Outlaws” his next directorial effort. “Everlasting” followed “Liberty Heights,” another modestly budgeted film that got him his strongest reviews since the Oscar-winning “Rain Man.” This marks his return to big-budget studio fare and his first pic with MGM prexy Michael Nathanson since the latter was a junior exec on “Diner.” The pic, written by Harley Peyton, comes from a true story about a pair of bank robbers who wind up fighting not over loot, but over the affection of a woman who they might or might not have kidnapped during their heist. The camaraderie between the two desperadoes has the town calling it a contemporary “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Willis joined the pic last fall, while Thornton, who has wrapped directing Matt Damon in “All the Pretty Horses,” is in talks to join Willis after eyeing several projects that include directing the boxing pic “Cinderella Man,” a plan KO’d when the star, Ben Affleck, was drafted for “Pearl Harbor” by his “Armageddon” cohorts Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay. Levinson is repped by UTA and AMG’s Mike Ovitz. DIMENSION’S A FAST “CLOSER”: With other studios circling, Dimension Films closed a preemptive deal worth $750,000 against $1 million for “Closers,” a comic spec script by Monica Johnson and Josh Stolberg. Dimension, which has a deal with “American Pie” star Jason Biggs, will likely approach him for a pic that has the same kind of high-concept hilarity. Kevin Messick will produce. The spec is a romantic comedy equivalent of the David Fincher-directed “The Game.” A hapless guy who wants to win the heart of a specific girl enlists a covert service that boasts an unbeatable guarantee: “You pick the target, and we guarantee you’ll get laid.” While the guy expects dating and wardrobe tips, he gets much more. Immediately after enlisting, he witnesses the girl’s hunky all-American boyfriend get flattened by a bus. That comes on the script’s second page, and the schemes orchestrated by the service get worse, even as he decides to take it slow when he has reason to believe the girl might be a psycho. Johnson has been the writing partner of Albert Brooks on such comedies as “The Muse” and “Mother,” while newcomer Stolberg wrote the comedy “Bad Nougat” for Bubble Factory. “I just graduated from USC film school, and yesterday I had $65,000 in student loans, another $35,000 in credit card debt to finance my student film,” said Stolberg. “Today, I’m in the black and it’s a good feeling.” Dimension prexy Cary Granat closed the deal with execs and Andrew Gumpert. Dave Phillips of Writers & Artists agented the scribes, while attorney Karl Austen repped Stolberg and Brad Small repped Johnson. FROM AGENT TO TALENT: A year ago, Justin Connolly surprised his CAA colleagues by abruptly quitting his job after 14 years so he could move his wife and three kids to Vejer de la Frontera, a picturesque town in Spain. After nearly a year abroad, he’s back, but not wearing Armani; instead, he’s gotten a book deal from Little, Brown to write about his unusual life change and adventures. When he left, Connolly handled a strong list of writers and directors including Barbet Schroeder, Vincent Ward, John Wells, Michael Schiffer and David Rabe. He decided to make a change partly because he harbored dreams of becoming a writer, and also because the endless hours at the job made him a stranger to his children. “Some people in Hollywood figure out a way to do what they need at the office and still get home to their kids, but I wasn’t one of them,” said Connolly, who made the decision just as he and his wife were cementing their future in L.A. with an expensive expansion of their home. “After saving money and working two years with an architect to double the size of our house, we realized we’d be doubling our overhead, asked ourselves if this is what we really wanted and I resigned three weeks later.” After walking the kids to school each day, he began writing e-mails to friends with a laptop he borrowed from CAA colleague Sally Willcox to keep in touch. His irreverent, reflective accounts of his adventures got such great response that he presented them to his pal Simon Green, a lit agent at Pom Inc., who made a quick deal with Little, Brown editor Bill Phillips. Connolly’s writing to make a summer deadline with hopes for a fulltime writing career. Connolly misses the paycheck, but said he has no regrets about leaving behind stature the average mailroom trainee would give a kidney to get. “I actually have a better relationship with my clients now that they have to listen to me complain,” he said. “This venture brings a ton of insecurity, but who knows? If I finish the book and it sucks, I’ll probably change my mind. If I like it and the world hates it, that’ll be hard. But if I like it and the world does, too, it’ll be easy.” FROM DOCU TO DRAMAS: Roko and Adrian Belic, the team behind the Oscar-nominated documentary “Genghis Blues,” are in Hollywood this week hoping to hook a screen deal for a drama based on the life story of Ed Artis, a Vietnam vet-turned-guerrilla philanthropist who has spent the past two decades raising millions of dollars and risking his life to drop medical supplies to strife-torn Third World countries. The filmmakers’ “Genghis” is about blind bluesman Paul Pena’s unlikely trip to the Asian territory Tuva to enter in a competition of throat singing, which he won; Roxie Releasing has that film. The duo is now working on a docu about problem students turned around by a teacher who got all 150 graduated and into colleges. They’re repped by Writers & Artists. DISHINGS: UTA has brought into the fold David Seltzer, who, aside from past credits like “The Omen,” “Punchline” and “Lucas,” has scripted two projects that are contending for the next directing slot of Tom Shadyac — the Charlie Barrett biopic “King of the Park,” at Universal, and “Dragonfly,” at MGM. Seltzer’s in post on “Anasazi Moon,” the Gary Oldman starrer he wrote and directed.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more