Phillips heading to ‘School’ with Miramax

This article was corrected on Feb. 5, 2003.

“Road Trip” helmer Todd Phillips has made a three-year first-look deal with Dimension and Miramax that establishes him as the Weinstein go-to guy for comedies.

Phillips will direct at least one film under the pact, and the studio has bought rights for him to remake the 1960 British comedy “School for Scoundrels.” Phillips will write, direct and produce the film.

“It’ll be new except for the title and one line I liked, the notion of teaching guys used to finishing last to get ahead by being cutthroat,” Phillips said. “I’m thinking that it will take place in a night class at the 92nd Street Y.”

Phillips made his debut with the docu “Frat House.” “Road Trip” grossed north of $110 million for Universal, and he was paid $3 million by DreamWorks for “Old School,” which will be released this fall. Phillips will begin “School For Scoundrels” after next directing “Starsky and Hutch,” a comic take on the TV series for Warner Bros., with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson playing the title roles.

Because of the high upside and low budgets of the kind of comedies Phillips makes, he was courted for an overall deal by each of those studios but directed his WMA reps to make the Miramax/Dimension deal.

“I am a New Yorker, and (Harvey and Bob Weinstein) always stood for a certain quality of filmmaking which I will do my best to tarnish,” said Phillips. “I met them when I was 23, and they ignored me until ‘Frat House’ won the Audience Prize at Sundance. I find this passive-aggressive energy in Hollywood, and they are aggressive-aggressive guys just like me. It saves time. The other thing is, they didn’t have a steady supplier of the comedies I make.”

Phillips joins Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Wes Craven, Kevin Smith and a few others in the fold of directors with Miramax deals. Phillips has to come up with a name for his new venture and hire an executive capable of shepherding what he hopes will be a bunch of produced comedies along with the ones Phillips writes with scripting partner Scot Armstrong.

Dimension co-heads Andrew Rona and Brad Weston will oversee the deal with exec Robbie Brenner.

“As a writer and director, Todd has breakout potential and we see him as a producer who will bring in other talent for films that reflect his sensibility,” Weston said. “Putting his reality-based mainstream comedies alongside directors here like Quentin and Robert, it’s a great fit for the company.”

ALAMO SKIRMISH FOR DISNEY: The behind-the-scenes maneuvering on the Disney film “The Alamo” is high drama that is reminiscent of the action that preceded the greenlight of “Pearl Harbor.” Just days ago, Ron Howard ankled as director, a distressing development for a studio that already spent $12 million on the script and the Alamo set. Disney moved on, and quickly selected as helmer John Lee Hancock, the Texan who delivered the well reviewed Disney sleeper hit “The Rookie.” The idea was that Hancock would do a rewrite himself. Things have changed just as suddenly this week: Howard is once again entertaining the idea of directing. He and Imagine partner Brian Grazer are guiding Stephen Gaghan through a rewrite, but it is still an open question whether Howard or Hancock will be at the helm when the posturing is done. Howard and the studio are far apart on vision and budget. Pic as currently conceived could cost $125 million and tells an unvarnished historical tale of flawed heroes, with a bloody massacre in the middle. Though his films have always had mainstream appeal, Howard wants the latitude to deliver an R rating. Disney numbers-crunchers fear they’d never break even if that happened, because of all the restrictions now placed on advertising R-rated fare. Ankling once puts Howard well behind “Pearl Harbor” helmer Michael Bay, who quit several times along the way to making that epic. Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were humbled by a studio that made them swallow their fees and any overages, in order to get that PG-13 movie greenlit at $135 million. That duo and Disney got their money back from the gambit, but it is doubtful that Howard and Grazer would even consider backend adjustments. They just won Oscars for “A Beautiful Mind” and couldn’t cut fees when they always get full freight at home studio Universal. Nobody envies the hard decision that Disney will make shortly and the stakes are high. If Howard does exit, so probably does Russell Crowe, who enlisted to play Sam Houston so he could reteam with the director. While Disney execs want to be fiscally cautious, a risky prestige project could help ease suspicions that the Mouse’s live-action operation is too devoted to filmed adaptations of theme park rides. Stay tuned.

WHO’S IN?: Mike Myers has not committed to playing Who drummer Keith Moon, despite reports. Rumors started when Myers dined with Roger Daltrey and conversed about the movie plans. Even though he seems perfect to play the musician who OD’d at age 31 in 1978, reps say nothing happened beyond that initial dinner. Intermedia’s developing the pic with director Gary Fleder and “The Commitments” scribes Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

U’S WILD FOR LUDLUM: After Doug Liman’s adaptation of the Robert Ludlum thriller “The Bourne Identity” vastly exceeded expectations, Universal is eyeing a sequel, and has quickened the pace of another Ludlum adaptation, “The Sigma Protocol.” Fresh from “Changing Lanes,” scribe Chap Taylor has been hired to adapt the thriller for director Antoine Fuqua and producer Paul L. Sandberg. “Antoine and I are extremely pleased to have landed Chap because of his passion and vision for the material,” Sandberg said.

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