Sandler’s high ‘Five’; ‘Neverland’ prepped

NEW YORK — New Line has made a preemptive purchase of the comic pitch “The Five Joes,” a project to be scripted by Fred Wolf and produced by Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison Prods. partner Jack Giarraputo.

At this point, Sandler’s involvement is limited to producer, a role he plans to play more frequently with Giarraputo. The pair most recently exec produced the Rob Schneider hit “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo.”

Sandler first met scripter back in the comic’s days on “Saturday Night Live”; Wolf spent five seasons at the show. Since leaving as co-head writer, Wolf has thrived as a comedy scribe.

After an uncredited rewrite on the Pete Segal-directed Chris Farley-David Spade comedy “Tommy Boy,” Wolf penned the Farley comedy “Black Sheep” and, with Spade, wrote the Columbia comedy “Joe Dirt,” which will star Spade and begin shooting in May. Wolf also teamed with Segal to write the WB pilot “Fresh Meat,” described as a dysfunctional “Friends,” and he and Segal are working on a rewrite of “The Incredible Shrinking Man” for Imagine. That film will be directed by Segal and star Eddie Murphy. Wolf is repped by UTA and Basic Entertainment.

At New Line, Sandler and Giarraputo just set up an untitled romantic comedy based on an idea by Sandler that is now being scripted by Oscar nominated “As Good as It Gets” scribe Mark Andrus as a starring vehicle for Sandler. Sandler has a two-pic acting deal at NL, where he starred in “The Wedding Singer” and stars in the upcoming “Little Nicky.” Sandler and Giarraputo also set a Dana Carvey project at Disney. Sandler is becoming about as prolific in the producing field as Peter and Bobby Farrelly are with their partner Bradley Thomas.

HOW “PHONE BOOTH” CONNECTED: When Fox bested several studios to buy the Larry Cohen thriller “Phone Booth” in late 1998, acquiring exec Elizabeth Gabler expected the project to go into production almost immediately. Pic was a breath of fresh air compared to her other passion project, “Cast Away,” which, despite Tom Hanks’ long-standing interest, took seven years to crystallize.

“Phone Booth,” which takes place entirely in a single location, took longer than she expected, but with Joel Schumacher in the fold, it’ll be as unusual a shoot for its brevity as “Cast Away” is for its long duration. “Phone Booth,” about a man who picks up a phone and is told by the sniper/caller that he’ll be killed if he hangs up, will be rehearsed like a play, then will be shot in a period that might be as short as one week on a New York street.

By contrast, director Robert Zemeckis began shooting “Cast Away” last January for three months, then took a hiatus so he could helm the Harrison Ford-Michelle Pfeiffer pic “What Lies Beneath” while Tom Hanks lost about 40 pounds to resemble his shipwrecked character. “Cast Away” has just resumed shooting more than one year from its starting point. Gabler, who now heads Fox 2000, said the two projects represent the most unusual she’s been involved in, but shape up as potentially the most rewarding.

“When we bought ‘Phone Booth,’ we thought we could just go out and make the movie, and we wanted Joel to do it, but he wouldn’t commit,” said Gabler. “It took a while for him to see the movie, but he knows exactly how to do it in this abbreviated way, and he is a singular director with the visual style to be able to sustain shooting a movie in a single location and at a very quick pace.”

MIRAMAX FRIES PAN TALE: Miramax has acquired “Neverland,” a project that takes the “Shakespeare in Love” tack with “Peter Pan” author J.M. Barrie. Pic is the true story of how Barrie wrote the famous work after bonding with the next door neighbor’s children, kids whose father had gone and whose mother was dying. “Peter Pan” was essentially inspired by the author’s adventures with the children, for whom Barrie essentially became surrogate father. Tale was first developed as an Alan Knee-scripted play by Birnham Wood’s Nellie Bell and Tracey Becker. While being workshopped, it caught the attention of Miramax exec Michelle Sy, who involved exec Colin Vaines to turn it into a pic. “Neverland” has been scripted by David Magee, and “Cider House Rules” producers Richard Gladstein and Gary Binkow have come aboard to produce with Bell, Becker and Neal Israel. The project was repped by Writers & Artists.

DANIELS’ DEERHUNTING SAGA: After acting in 30 films, Jeff Daniels has taken the plunge and helmed “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” the film adaptation of a play he wrote that revolves around a family on the eve of deer hunting season, where the wannabe macho men have to deal with the eldest son’s curse of never having bagged a buck. Daniels found the bucks to make the film under his newly formed Purple Rose Films, and will now look to find a distributor for the low-budget comedy in which he also stars with Harve Presnell. Daniels, who produced the pic with Bakula Prods. prexy Tom Spiroff, described the comedy as a cross between “Dumb and Dumber” and “Jeremiah Johnson.”

He was able to show the backers not only his script but the play, which is still being performed in Michigan. Still, raising funds was no easy feat. “A lot of people were interested in investing, until I told them this was a high-risk investment, and they would have nothing to say creatively about the product, which cleared the room quickly,” said Daniels. Still, he managed to make the pic for about $1 million and hopes to get it into the Toronto film fest.

“A lot of indie films are dark, and we saw a market for an indie comedy,” said Daniels, who named his company after his experience in Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo.” “I always wanted to write, direct and act like Woody, who, when he said I was good in his movie, made all the previous rejection and criticism of my work disappear and made me confident I could make a living in this business.”

ONION SHEDS SKIN: Wisconsin-based comic newspaper the Onion has peeled off its first big movie sale. Onion head writer Todd Hanson will script “10th Circle Added to Rapidly Growing Hell,” which has sold to DreamWorks Animation. The article concerned the need for expansion in hell due to an influx of demographers, ad execs, tobacco lobbyists, monopoly law experts retained by major corporations and creators of office-based sitcoms. The paper, which hatched the recent book “The Onion’s Finest News Reporting,” has thousands of archived humor articles and is making a concerted effort to set up others as features. Both the paper and Hanson are repped by David Miner at 3 Arts.

ENDEAVOR CATWALKING?: Endeavor has forged an alliance with Gotham-based modeling agency Next Management that will allow for the cross pollination of the clientele of each agency. Next co-founder Faith Kates sought guidance for Next models eyeing showbiz opportunities, while Endeavor wanted Next’s guidance in giving its clientele access to marketing and advertising, including the use of Endeavor clients as spokespeople.

DISHINGS: Laura Harris, whose recent credits include “The Faculty” and “Suicide Kings,” will star in and produce the indie pic “Come Together,” written and directed by Jeffrey Macpherson and co-starring Tygh Runyan. Pic’s put together at RCI Pictures, a co-venture between Harris and Macpherson… “Saturday Night Live” cast member Jimmy Fallon, who stars in Cameron Crowe’s upcoming DreamWorks pic, has signed with CAA. … John C. McGinley and Cynthia Gibbs are starring in “The Learning Curve,” a WB pilot set at a high school that Brian Robbins is directing. Gibbs is also toplining the Gregg Araki-directed MTV series “This Is How the World Ends”. … David Ramsey, who plays Muhammad Ali in the upcoming Fox telepic, has joined “Pay It Forward” and toplines the NBC pilot “The Thing About Family”. … UTA-repped Illeana Douglas will do MGM’s “Ghost World” for director Terry Zwigoff and follow with the Ron Underwood-directed “Pluto Nash” for Castle Rock. … “Magnolia” star Melora Walters, who’s negotiating for “Speaking of Sex,” will first star with Kiefer Sutherland in “Desert Saints,” an indie written and directed by Rich Greenberg. She’s repped by UTA and managed by Mel McKeon. … Jason Isaacs, who makes a memorable villain opposite Mel Gibson in the upcoming “Patriot,” next joins Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron in “Sweet November” for WB and Bel Air.

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