Randall Wallace, who’s about to direct Mel Gibson in the Paramount/Icon Vietnam saga “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young,” is hanging out a writer-friendly shingle called The Wheelhouse.
Stephen Zapotoczny and Danielle Lemmon are on board as veeps of production and development.
Company’s emphasis will be on developing new writers and will be fueled by revenue from Wallace-generated scripts and books, like the “Pearl Harbor” novel he wrote for Hyperion and Wheelhouse Books. (He also wrote the upcoming Michael Bay pic at Touchstone.)
Wheelhouse is currently working on early Wallace scripts like “Love and Honor,” an 18th century story of an American who heads to Russia during the days of Catherine the Great and enlists the support for the American Revolution. Pic was the first major sale for Wallace, but quickly turned sour when buyer Largo wanted to turn it into an Arnold Schwarzenegger film.
Wallace also bought back “Long Black Veil” from MGM. Pic is a gothic thriller based on a mountain ghost story.
Wallace’s self-financed screenwriter empowerment move came after observing that his most satisfying film experiences were the scripts in which he was personally vested. That included “Braveheart,” “Man in the Iron Mask” and “Soldiers,” which he stumbled across in a bookstore. Wallace optioned it with his own money four years ago and was able to sell it at a premium to Paramount and Icon with a fully developed script and Gibson committed to star.
“To me, the real foundation of a memorable movie is a script that not only has the writer’s passion, but total commitment,” said Wallace. “I saw an opportunity to build a business devoted to creating scripts that have the absolute commitment of the writer. I’m able to finance development myself, and we’re very quietly recruiting writers we believe in. This requires a commitment, because we won’t pay them salaries. But if we go out and sell the thing, they get 100% of the money.”
As for the “Soldiers” cast additions, “Felicity” star Keri Russell, Ryan Hurst (“Remember the Titans”), Doug Hutchinson (“Green Mile”), and Clark Gregg are joining Gibson, Chris Klein, Barry Pepper, Madeleine Stowe and Greg Kinnear.
FOX BACK IN “STUART” FOLD: While Michael J. Fox ankled “Spin City” for health reasons, he is coming back to the biz in the form of a mouse…again. The actor and his CAA reps are near a deal for him to reprise his role of voicing the title character in “Stuart Little 2,” the Columbia pic being directed by Rob Minkoff. Studio’s also in talks with Geena Davis, Jonathan Lipinski and Hugh Laurie to reprise their roles.
INDIE GETS BOOKISH: While studios seem to be tightening their purse strings on the book front, independently financed companies are still aggressive. Atlantic Steamline, which is about to go into production with the Burr Steers-directed comedy “Igby Goes Down” with Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes and Ryan Phillippe, has bought the rights to Leo Bretholz’s “Leap into Darkness” for a pic that will be scripted by Michael Olesker and produced by Streamline’s Marco Weber and Vanessa Coifman. “Darkness” concerns a holocaust survivor and his seven years spent running from the Nazis in wartime Europe. The lead character is based on Bretholz himself, and scripter Olesker is the Baltimore Sun columnist who helped him write the book.