Jersey sparks to ‘Ark’

Natalie Portman has been set to star in “Large’s Ark,” a Jersey Films drama that will mark the feature directorial debut of “Scrubs” star Zach Braff.

Braff is pulling triple duty on the film, as he wrote the script and will star alongside Portman. Shooting will begin in spring, when Braff’s NBC series is on hiatus and after Portman completes work in the Anthony Minghella-directed “Cold Mountain.”

Braff, whose work on the series has established him as a thesp to be watched, has been working on this particular script since he was a graduate in the Northwestern U. film program. “I made movies since I was a kid, it was all I wanted to do,” said Braff, who segued into acting when he was cast in “Macbeth” with Alec Baldwin. That led to indie films and then the series. “I play this guy who has been estranged from his family for 10 years, and comes home for the first time for his mother’s funeral,” Braff said. “He has lost every shred of who he was as a person, and the catalyst for his recovery is this young girl he meets when he returns. I always thought Natalie Portman would be perfect, but I never imagined that she would actually say yes.”

The pic will be shepherded by Jersey CEO Rich Klubeck and prexy Pamela Abdy, with the producer now in the process of setting up financing on the modest budget film. Jersey triumvirate Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher are no strangers to working with new directors or even budding hyphenates. Jersey has made films by Richard LaGravenese, Andrew Niccol and Ben Stiller when their directing careers were in nascent stages. “Meet the Parents” writer John Hamburg is about to make his directing debut with Stiller starring in an untitled romantic comedy at Jersey and Universal.

SOLDIERING TOWARD OSCARS: “We Were Soldiers” writer-director Randall Wallace hasn’t gotten the Vietnam drama out of his system. Even though “Soldiers” has been released on video and DVD, Wallace and the film’s sound crew came up with a novel way to re-release the film in theaters. Wallace and Paramount have made an accommodation with Dolby to specially modify the sound systems of a few theaters around the country to give a heightened sense of what it was like in the trenches during the bloody skirmish. “We are re-releasing it in what we are calling Sonic Whole Sound, so that you will hear helicopters over your head, as well as the artillery that falls down from overhead,” Wallace said. “We . . . plan to spread the film across the major college campuses through the heartland where there is a large student population. I wanted to start there because those students will embrace what is new, and most new ideas strike a chord with youthful audiences. I also thought this film was appropriate because of its subject matter. I was in college when Vietnam was being fought, and it is the college students who will be asked to fight the next war. We owe them the truth in showing war in the most realistic way that we can.” Wallace doesn’t deny that the move might help his picture’s Oscar chances. Many feel the film’s early 2002 bow risks it being forgotten against late fall fare. But he said the impact of the sound innovations have proved well worth the $20,000 to $30,000 it costs to retrofit each theater. “It is unlike anything being used today, but I think that eventually every theater will have them. There is a verticality that is added to the moviegoing experience, and I wanted people to feel what it would be like to be at war, surrounded by all of these things that were coming right on top of these men. Paramount is excited by it, because the innovations will benefit the whole industry.”

NBC HOT ON MEDIUM: NBC has warmed to a fictional series drawn from spiritual medium Rosemary Altea and her bestselling autobiography “The Eagle and the Rose.” Screenwriter Adam Gibgot, who’s currently writing “Untraceable” for Ashley Judd at Castle Rock, has gotten a six-figure pilot script commitment to create and exec produce a drama driven by a character who’s drawn from Altea and her experiences. Much the way Altea has done, the protagonist helps cops crack cases and family members come to terms with lost loved ones. The network made the deal after Gibgot pitched it to the major webs, and Gibgot will exec produce with Ben Silverman, whose Reveille LLC is backed by Universal. “At the beginning of the pilot, this woman has hallucinations and thinks she’s crazy before realizing that she has a gift that enables her to see the spirit world,” said Gibgot, who describes the resulting series as a “supernatural ‘Six Feet Under’ in the way it deals with death.” Altea will be a consultant on the drama, which was packaged by WMA.

T3 WRAP: “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” wrapped early yesterday morning, with a late Sunday night shoot on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, which it took five months to get clearance for. “It was the arrival of the female Terminator, and as you know, they arrive naked,” director Jonathan Mostow said. “Because there are so many tourists, the challenge was to shoot that scene with Kristanna Loken without attracting too many lookyloos.” Rodeo Drive’s a location coup, but “T3” gained local goodwill by eschewing a Canada shoot and filming completely in L.A. Mostow said the five month shoot finished right on schedule.

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