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‘Apocalypto’ now for Mel

Disney nabs Gibson's next pic

Mel Gibson has found the passion to get back behind the camera again.

Gibson is delving back into antiquity — this time with an action picture — and Disney has won a bidding war to distribute the film domestically. Gibson’s company, Icon, will handle foreign territories.

Gibson wrote the script and will direct “Apocalypto,” which, sources say, is not religious in theme. Pic begins production in October in Mexico for a summer 2006 release. Gibson will produce along with Icon partner Bruce Davey.

Production chiefs went to Gibson’s office in Santa Monica this past week to read the script under his watchful eye. Helmer-thesp set secrecy rules because he was distressed that copies of his script for “The Passion of the Christ” leaked to the media, fueling early controversial reports about the project.

Since “Apocalypto” is fully financed by Icon, the project was eagerly sought by the various majors. It is believed that several agreed to the deal terms that Gibson and Davey were seeking, but ICM and Gibson’s attorney Tom Hansen closed with the Mouse House. A couple of companies chose to pass on the script citing creative concerns.

Disney’s interest was keen since the studio has already committed north of $400 million for the two sequels to “Pirates of the Caribbean,” now in production. Hence, the prospect of distributing a potential tentpole film that would require little or no production coin was particularly tempting. Moreover Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook knows Gibson well, having worked on the distribution of Gibson starrers “Signs” and “Ransom.”

“We couldn’t be more excited about working again with Mel and his team,” says Cook. “This is one of the most original and unique scripts we’ve had the opportunity to read recently and we plan for this to be an anchor on our summer schedule.”

In winning the deal, Disney had to commit to stringent distribution terms. Stepping up to finance his second straight directorial effort puts Gibson is league with George Lucas, who bankrolled his “Star Wars” prequels and made a deal with Fox to distribute them.

Gibson will not star in “Apocalypto” and may not use a star for the film, which is set in an ancient civilization some 3,000 years ago. The title is a Greek term which means “an unveiling” or “new beginning.” Consistent with such Gibson films as “Braveheart” and “Passion,” the script depicts abundant action and violence. Gibson has already begun pre-production; he is setting locations and has already begun casting.

Gibson had no qualms about self-financing his vision and while he is known to be collaborative, he has creative control.

Gibson had some cash laying around: “The Passion of the Christ,” which cost Gibson $25 million to make, grossed just north of $600 million worldwide to become the most successful indie ever.

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