M'max retains rights of first refusal for co-financing, distrib

Warner Bros. Pictures has acquired feature rights to the Jonathan Larson musical “Rent” from Miramax Films, with Chris Columbus to write and direct. With Tribeca Films, Columbus and his 1492 Films will also produce.

Miramax retains rights of first refusal for co-financing and distribution on the film. If Miramax were to come aboard for distribution, it would handle the film’s foreign rights, with domestic going through Warners.

“Rent,” an updated version of Puccini’s “La Boheme” set in Gotham’s East Village, has been a passion project long in development at Miramax. The property got a fresh boost last year after the triumph of “Chicago” at the Oscars and box office.

Tony-winning tuner has run on Broadway since 1996, the same year Miramax and Tribeca acquired feature rights after a fierce bidding war. Deal called for $2.5 million against $5 million, but Miramax had to agree not to release the film until after Oct. 29, 2001, to protect international legit productions.

That year, Miramax came close to developing the musical with Spike Lee as its director, but the studio spiked the production over budgetary concerns.

Columbus most recently directed the first two installments of the “Harry Potter” franchise for Warners. He’s developing the Katherine Fugate script “NFL Dad” for the studio.

“Rent” would be the first live-action musical for Warners since “Bert Rigby, You’re a Fool,” Carl Reiner’s 1989 adaptation of the Broadway musical starring Robert Lindsay.

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