THE WALT DISNEY CO. AND Jim Henson Pictures are joining a stream of producers mining old Philip K. Dick stories for high-concept movie material.They’re in talks to produce “King of the Elves,” a short story that first appeared in a 1953 issue of the pulp sci-fi mag, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, and attached screenwriter Wally Wolodarsky, a former writer for “The Simpsons” who just directed the Mouse House movie “Sorority Boys.” The story follows a young boy, an outsider, who is approached by a group of elves one rainy night. They anoint him their king, declaring only he can lead a secret race of elves in a desperate battle against the Troll King and his minions. The pic will feature extensive special effects, but no CGI. The elves will be played by actors. And at a time when fantasy pics are approaching such material earnestly — “Lord of the Rings” even veers on the lugubrious — Wolodarsky will write a screenplay more in the spirit of “Shrek,” poking fun at tentpole fantasy fare, and embracing the conventions of the genre at the same time. Henson Pictures has been developing the project for several years. That has afforded them a cheaper avenue into the Philip K. Dick business. Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming summer tentpole, “Minority Report” and the success of pics like “Total Recall” — both based on Dick stories — has catapulted the purchase price for a Dick story to $1.85 million, according to Russell Galen, of Scovil Chichak Galen, the agency for his estate. (If “Elves” is made, the estate gets close to $1 million). Dick, who died in 1982, never expected to have such cachet in Hollywood. Financially strapped in his lifetime, he cranked out hundreds of stories for pulp magazine for a penny a word. Today, word for word, he’s one of the highest paid writers in Hollywood. Like Elmore Leonard, a master of pulp fiction early in his career, Dick developed a succinct, rat-a-tat style writing for the pulps that perfectly suits the studios. “The old Hollywood cliche is the way to get a movie made is to have an idea so powerful and concentrated it convinces people just upon the hearing of the idea that a movie can be made,” says Galen. Wolodarsky is repped by ICM. RANDOM HOUSE WAS HIT with a series of cutbacks last week as the company’s steep profit expectations collided with a shaky economy and poor holiday sales. At a time when parent company Bertlesmann stands to make $8 billion selling most of its stake in AOL Europe, Random House budgets, if not bodies, are being slashed at every imprint, according to sources at the company. Out of jobs last week were Peter Borland, an executive editor at Ballantine; Jeremie Ruby-Strauss, a senior editor at Ballantine; Suzanne Oaks, a senior editor at Broadway; Amy Scheibe, an editor at Doubleday; and two publicists at Doubleday/Broadway. More layoffs are expected in the new year. In June, Random CEO Peter Olson told 1,700 staffers the company was expected to achieve a 12% return on sales next year — an ambitious goal even in a favorable economy. Random spokesman Stuart Applebaum says there’s no corporate mandate to cut jobs. “It’s well known that all our divisions are examining their costs and expenses and looking at ways to reduce them,” he explains. There’s been no freeze on promotions, acquisitions or hiring, he says. But high-profile new hires — like former Penguin Putnam CEO Phyllis Grann — have done little to help company morale. One Random employee, who said he has been instructed not to requisition books from the company warehouse, quipped: “It’s like working in a restaurant and not being able to eat the food.”
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