Silberling, Crystal step up to the plate

NEW YORK — Though it’s easier to hit a curveball than to turn a film about baseball into a hit, Hollywood keeps trying: Two major directors are currently up to bat.

“City of Angels” helmer Brad Silberling will try with the Disney feature “Charlie Faust,” a feature about an unlikely good-luck charm for the 1911 New York Giants. And Billy Crystal is looking to get behind the camera with “Home Run Race: 61*,” an HBO pic about the kinship between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle during the 1961 season as they chased Babe Ruth’s record of 60 homers.

In a seven-figure deal, Disney purchased the pitch “Charlie Faust” from a pitch by Charlie Mitchell. Silberling will supervise his script about an unusual 31-year-old man who showed up one day and, showing not the least bit of athletic ability or talent, asked to try out for the team. He was put on the bench as something of a joke.

The laughing stopped when the Giants started winning every game, and the film focuses on his relationship with Giants pitcher and future Hall-of-Famer Rube Marquard. The film will be produced by Marc Platt and Rich Raddon. The project was bought by Touchstone toppers Todd Garner and Nina Jacobson.

Mitchell wrote “Smuggler’s Moon,” which has Brad Pitt attached to star at New Line. The scribe most recently rewrote the Cliff Hollingsworth script “Cinderella Man,” a feature which Billy Bob Thornton will direct and Ben Affleck will star in as a depression era boxer. The film will be a co-production between Universal and Miramax.

Silberling has emerged as a very in-demand director. Numerous stars are circling his next directorial project, “Baby’s in Black,” a script he wrote about a recently widowed man who, while living under the roof of his wife’s parents, falls in love with another woman.

Susan Sarandon has been set for some time to play the deceased woman’s mother. At the same time, Silberling seems a likely participant in the “Harry Potter” series of movies.

Until his recent health crisis changed his plans, Steven Spielberg had been expected to helm the first of the seven-pic series, right after he finishes directing Tom Cruise in “Minority Report.”

Spielberg would produce the series, and Silberling could be behind the camera for the second film. He’s repped by Endeavor, while Mitchell is repped by William Morris’ Dave Wirtschafter and Ramses IsHak..

On the Crystal front, HBO is eyeing a spring start and looking for movie-caliber names to play the M&M Boys, Mantle and Maris, in a Hank Steinberg-scripted pic to be exec produced by Crystal and HBO Sports exec Ross Greenburg. Crystal is a lifelong Yankees fan and already has a script. The pic gains timeliness after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both broke Maris’ record two seasons ago, and it opens with footage of McGwire breaking Maris’ record to unanimous fan adulation.

The key to the film is the unlikely camaraderie between the strait-laced Maris and the womanizing, boozing Mantle. Maris moved Mantle into his apartment to curb the excesses and late-night drinking binges which hindered Mantle’s run at the record.

And Mantle, whose place behind Maris in the lineup guaranteed his teammate good pitches, was also helpful in keeping Maris focused on breaking the record.

Crystal was repped by William Morris and managed by Brezner, Steinberg and Tennenbaum.

DISHINGS: Looks like Kevin Costner will follow costar Catherine Zeta-Jones in dropping out of the Oliver Stone-directed “Beyond Borders” for Mandalay. Her reason was pregnancy, his is scheduling. Costner’s eyeing “Pearl Harbor” and a few other projects that will likely have him occupied. Stone wants to keep his May 1 start date and is expected to assemble a new cast quickly. While she passed on playing Clarice Starling in “Hannibal,” Jodie Foster’s eyeing the role of a mean teacher in “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys,” a pic scripted by Michael Petroni and Jeff Stockwell and directed by Peter Care … Julianne Moore seems to be the odds-on fave to replace Jodie Foster in the Clarice Starling role in “Hannibal.” Universal and MGM, which recently considered selling the pic back to producer Dino De Laurentiis, now seem bullish again if the right Clarice comes along. The choice is important, because Hannibal Lecter doesn’t appear until one-quarter into the Steve Zaillian-scripted sequel. The script, by the way, has streamlined the book and kept many of the chills while solving the problems inherent in the book’s finale. The script even leaves open the possibility of a third film. Despite media reports about the gruesome subject matter, the pic’s problem hasn’t been the gross-out factor, but rather, the gross out in deals with Harris, De Laurentiis, director Ridley Scott and Zaillian. Even before Anthony Hopkins signs, as much as 26% of the gross has been gobbled up, Dish hears. Hopkins is poised to get a career-best deal north of $10 million, but will likely require gross points as well. If Foster hadn’t dropped out, it’s possible the film couldn’t have been made with room for the studios to make any profit … Columbia could use a shot of Viagra. The studio’s coming off a trifecta of chick flicks and finally has a guy-driven pic to sell in the Mike Nichols-directed “What Planet Are You From.” The one-sheet: the body of a guy holding a large limp tulip at crotch level, with the note: “To save his planet, an alien must find a woman on Earth to have his baby. There’s just one problem” … When it comes to film, R.E.M. frontman-turned-producer Michael Stipe checks his ego at the door. Oscar rules now allow only three producers to be on best picture ballots, and there are four producers on candidate “Being John Malkovich.” Though Stipe had more clout than the others, he volunteered to exclude his name … UTA’s crowing over the fact that all five original screenplay nominees for the WGA Awards are on its client roster.

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