Distribs eyeing 'T3,' pic could have budget over $170 mil

For those studios eager for a tentpole picture for summer 2003, there are tense times ahead this week.

Nearly all of the majors are scrambling for U.S. distribution and video rights to “Terminator 3,” which is expected to start shooting in April. Final contract details for Arnold Schwarzenegger to star and Jonathan Mostow to direct were being hammered out over the weekend.

Since the first two “Terminator” pics had a combined worldwide gross surpassing $560 million, there’s understandably avid studio interest.

But industry sources maintain “Terminator 3″ will have a production budget well above $170 million, making it easily the most expensive movie ever greenlit. Some familiar with the talks say obtaining the lucrative homevideo rights to the original “Terminator” and its sequel, “T2,” will almost certainly be part of any negotiations for “T3,” as a boxed set of the trio surely would fly off retailer shelves and help defray costs.

Intermedia is handling overseas distribution of the giant pic, which will be made in concert with its original producers, Andy Vajna and Mario Kassar of C-2 Pictures.

All this courting has been conducted in secret: No copies of the “T3″ script, by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, were circulated, so studio execs wanting a read had to do so by visiting Intermedia’s own suites, or by perusing it in their own offices with someone from Intermedia loitering outside.

Hundreds of Web sites have carried crumbs of “T3’s” supposed plot — some even allege to have excerpts from the script — so producers’ hypersensitivity about security is understandable.

Meanwhile, attorneys Skip Brittenham and Ken Ziffren are fielding offers, and a deal is expected to close by week’s end.

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