Veteran producer Dan Halsted has teamed with newcomer Gary Gilbert to option rights to “Shtick Man of the Sea,” a Steve Friedman-penned Washington Post feature about comic Jim McDonald and his transformation from the standup circuit to the comic on a luxury cruise ship.

The article will be the catalyst for a romantic comedy that will be scripted by McDonald and Chuck Martin; the latter was a writer on the Halsted-produced comedy “Servicing Sara,” which stars Matthew Perry and Elizabeth Hurley. Martin is also a standup comic who’ll open for Jerry Seinfeld at a series of venues this summer, and he’s a producer of “The Ellen Show,” starring Ellen DeGeneres, which debuts this fall on CBS. Martin said the comedy will draw on McDonald’s experiences to tell a story of how everything can go wrong with a wannabe standup comic meets the Love Boat crowd.

The “Shtick” sale christens a nonexclusive joint venture between Halsted, a producer on the new hit TNT series “Witchblade,” and Gilbert, who is the latest entrepreneur willing to risk a fortune made in another industry to take a shot at becoming a player in the movie business. While many have been unsuccessful, Gilbert’s eyeing a path taken by the likes of Morgan Creek’s Jim Robinson, Lakeshore’s Tom Rosenberg and Marc Turtletaub, who recently paired with David Friendly in Deep River Productions and has bought promising projects by William Broyles and “Chicken Run” scribe Karey Kirkpatrick.

The 37-year old Gilbert made his money as one of three shareholders in the Motor City-based mortgage brokerage business Roc Financial. The company was bought by Web titan Quicken for $370 million in stock in Quicken’s parent Intuit, a value that zoomed to north of $500 million by the time the deal was consummated.

Gilbert cashed out and headed to Gotham, setting his sights on film. In the past year, he’s had over 200 meetings, many with producers looking for seed money.

Gilbert said he’ll spend $10 million of his own money over the next three years or so to develop strong material for studio-caliber films. He’s also open to investing in specific indie pictures as well, as he did when he took a small stake in the Jeff Daniels-directed “Super Sucker,” a comedy about competitive vacuum cleaner salesmen.

Gilbert is uninterested in being a silent partner. “I want this to be my next career,” Gilbert said. “I don’t want to just be considered the money guy.” Sterling Lord brokered the “Shtick” sale and CAA reps Martin.

“SOPRANOS” SIREN: UTA has brought into the fold Drea de Matteo, the young actress who has used her role as the fiancee of mobster Christopher in “The Sopranos” as a springboard for indie movie work. De Matteo’s currently in “Swordfish,” and will next be seen opposite Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau in the Artisan drama “Made,” which was written and directed by Favreau (who played himself in a “Sopranos” arc). She’s also completed the MGM pic “Deuces Wild” for director Scott Kalvert.

And she’s playing a Puerto Rican drug lord in the Abel Ferrera-directed “R-XMAS,” which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. The actress continues to be managed by Brillstein-Grey.

CASTINGS: “Judging Amy” co-star Richard T. Jones has been making the most of his hiatus. He’s been in the Hamptons toplining the Christopher Scott Cherot-directed indie drama “G,” splitting time between that and the Brad Silberling-directed “Baby’s In Black.” Jones, who’s repped by Endeavor and Magus Ent. , will next be seen onscreen co-starring with Colin Farrell in the Joel Schumacher-directed Fox 2000 thriller “Phone Booth,” as well as the indie films “Lockdown” and “Book of Love”… If anyone in Hollywood has paid his dues to get here, it’s actor Thomas Kretschmann, who’s playing the villain opposite Wesley Snipes in “Blade 2: Bloodlust,” The actor, who played the captured German sub captain in “U-571,” grew up in East Germany and became one of its best swimmers before the 1980 boycott ended his Olympic dreams. He attempted to defect at 18, walking in the cold for a month, losing part of his pinkie to frostbite, and crossing four borders before finding his way to West Germany. There, he took up acting and got noticed in “Stalingrad.” Now repped by Roklin Management, he’s starring in the Pupi Avati-directed “The Knights of the Quest,” which Sony Pictures Classics distributes in the fall, the Bob Clark-directed “Unleashed” and the Roman Polanski-directed “The Pianist”… Jason Priestley, back in the small-screen fold with the F/X pilot “Dope,” just wrapped the Eric Weston-directed indie drama “Cover Story,” and the Finn Taylor-directed indie “Cherish.”

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