Well under Par

Studio tees off with first-time helmer

After basking in the glow of Oscar season, Stephen Gaghan is getting ready to join an even more select group. When shooting starts on Paramount’s “Abandon” next month, he’ll become one of the few writers the studio has hired to direct a film.

The “Traffic” scribe will make his helming debut on Par’s $25 million pic, which is scheduled to wrap before the summer strikes.

The notoriously conservative studio has let only a few other scribes direct, including Steve Zaillian, who lensed “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”

Gaghan got his chance when Ed Zwick stepped aside as “Abandon’s” director in favor of producing the pic with Lynda Obst.

Despite his scripting clout, Gaghan had never so much as lensed a short film, but he early on won the confidence of Zwick, a producer of “Traffic,” and Obst with his vision of “Abandon,” a book-based supernatural thriller set at an Ivy League college. Gaghan then went on to impress the top brass at Par. The studio released the Gaghan-penned “Rules of Engagement” in 2000.

Gaghan then delivered a series of rewrites to give the script a psychological thrust that would not entail the pricey special effects featured in earlier versions.

“Abandon” finally was set to go after the studio survived a scare when German funds falling through; Spyglass then joined in as a co-financing partner.

Benjamin Bratt, Katie Holmes and Charlie Hunnam are on board to star. Obst and Zwick now are prepping the film in Montreal for an April 19 start. All that’s left is filling out the cast, assembling the crew and seeing if Gaghan’s magic touch as a screenwriter can be replicated in the director’s chair.

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