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Jeunet gets piece of ‘Pi’

Helmer writing script with Laurant

Jean-Pierre Jeunet is set to direct Fox 2000’s adaptation of the Man Booker Prize-winning Yann Martel novel “Life of Pi.”

Jeunet has begun writing the script with Guillaume Laurant, his collaborator on “Amelie” and “A Very Long Engagement.”

Since Fox 2000 prexy Elizabeth Gabler acquired it for Gil Netter to produce, “Life of Pi” has been a priority for the studio. The difficulty has been meshing schedules with the right filmmaker.

Book tells of a 16-year-old boy’s voyage from India to Canada, a trip that begins on a freighter carrying animals his father is transporting from the zoo. The ship sinks and the boy is the sole human survivor, sharing a lifeboat with a hyena, an injured zebra and a hungry tiger.

Book was a global publishing phenomenon, and M. Night Shyamalan was given the assignment to helm the adaptation early on, only to exit because he wanted to make “Lady in the Water” first and the studio didn’t want to wait. Conversations with Alfonso Cuaron followed, but he opted to direct “Children of Men.”

All the while, Jeunet’s ICM agent Robert Newman kept tabs on the book for Jeunet, who loved the story but hadn’t been available.

Jeunet was a favorite of Fox toppers Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos from his Hollywood debut, “Alien: Resurrection,” and Gabler said the timing finally worked.

“We bought the book three years ago, and so many filmmakers were passionate about it, but we felt a responsibility to the material and Yann Martel to wait for the right one at the right time,” Gabler said. “We had the most amazing meeting with Jean-Pierre, one of those instances where he verbalized the things I had in my head, and every hope of what this movie could become..”

Jeunet and Laurant have just begun writing. Gabler is optimistic the film can begin production next summer, with the studio likely to shoot part of it in India.

Jeunet already has been shown the Fox studio in Baja that houses the giant tank used in “Titanic,” and Gabler said it was a strong possibility to host most of the shoot.

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