Pic focuses on orphan trio

“Men in Black 2″ director Barry Sonnenfeld has reunited with producer Scott Rudin on “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” the first of what execs at Paramount and Nickelodeon Films hope will be a film franchise based on the bestselling book series by Daniel Handler, who is writing the screenplay.

Sonnenfeld was elevated from cinematographer to make his directing debut on the Rudin-produced “The Addam’s Family” and its sequel, “Addam’s Family Values.” It was that film, the “Men in Black” series, and even the dark humor of “Get Shorty” that prompted Rudin and Nickelodeon to draft Sonnenfeld for “Snicket” duty.

“We wanted someone who would define a visual style with a sense of black comedy, and Barry does that so well,” said Albie Hecht, president of Nickelodeon Film and Television.

Pic is set in a distant and nonspecific world that leaves lots of creative room.

Orphaned trio

The “Snicket” saga revolves around a pint-sized trio of orphans named Sunny, Klaus and Violet who find themselves fobbed off on a series of odd people, including Lemony Snicket, who narrates each of what has grown to a series of eight books since Handler debuted the first title in 1999. Recurring bad guy is a distant family relative named Count Olaf, who initially takes in the kids but clearly is trying to separate them from a family inheritance.

“This will be a movie with broad-based appeal,” said Rob Friedman, Paramount Pictures vice chairman. “It is edgy the way ‘Harry Potter’ is edgy and if you wanted to call this our ‘Harry Pottter,’ you wouldn’t be mistaken.”

While there is not the obvious magical powers of “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings,” the series has been wildly popular. Five of the top 10 spots on the New York Times kiddie bestseller lists are held by Snicket volumes.

“Barry can take kids and make them entertaining to adults,” Hecht said. “Just think of Christina Ricci in ‘Addam’s Family.’ That is exactly the model for what we want to do here.”

Nick notables

Nick has hatched animated film franchises with “Rugrats,” a third installment of which is being made, and the about-to-be-sequelized “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius.” But Hecht said “Snicket” is the company’s most ambitious franchise foray.

“We knew we had something special with the book, and that’s why we first got involved with Scott, who has an uncanny ability to see literary properties and how they can be translated to the screen,” Hecht said.

Hecht said the project already is looking for locations and working on set designs, and stressed that the adult characters of Snicket and Olaf are recurring.

CAA reps Sonnenfeld.

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