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Diesel behind Par’s ‘Wheel’

Studio, thesp team on vidgame

In one of the biggest partnerships to date between a vidgame publisher and a studio, MTV Films and Paramount are developing Midway Games’ “The Wheelman” as a feature film.

Plan is to release the pic and the game simultaneously; Vin Diesel is signed on to star in and produce both.

“Wheelman” is an action-adventure title about an expert driver who comes out of retirement to protect a woman from his past.

Par and MTV Films bought the rights from Midway, which is already well into development on the game for next generation consoles Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Budget is believed to be north of $15 million — on the high end for videogames.

Game and movie are being targeted for a late 2007 release. “XXX” scribe Rich Wilkes is penning the film’s screenplay and is expected to turn in a draft in about two months.

“It was a very coordinated effort,” said MTV Films exec veep David Gale. Diesel and producing partner Samantha Vincent “had the foresight and idea of making a cinematic game and a movie that could be synergistically developed.”

MTV Networks will also produce the game’s soundtrack, help sell advertising within the game and market it through its many properties as part of a multigame partnership between the two companies.

Companies signed the cross-marketing pact last year and already worked together on a holiday release, “L.A. Rush” (Daily Variety, June 28). “The Wheelman” was already selected to be the second game in that deal, but as Diesel came aboard and MTV execs saw initial work on the game, they decided to go a step further and develop it as a film.

Midway and Paramount/MTV are both majority owned by Sumner Redstone, and they are already working together on several other projects. Par is developing Midway games “The Suffering” and “Area 51” and also has “Fear and Respect,” which John Singleton started developing for Midway, through the game has been delayed and is not currently scheduled for release.

Diesel, who next stars in Sidney Lumet’s “Find Me Guilty,” debuting March 17, is one of the most active Hollywood actors in the game biz through his Tigon studios game production company. He produced and starred in “The Chronicles of Riddick” vidgame, which was critically acclaimed and sold moderately well, though the film did poorly.

“We saw Vin’s dedication to the ‘Riddick’ game and thought this would be a great vehicle for him,” said Midway CEO David Zucker.

Vidgame’s story will be a prequel to the film, with some crossover between the two.

While companies may adjust release dates to keep them nearly simultaneous in case one property gets delayed, they could come up separately if schedules end up differing significantly.

Overseeing the project at MTV Films are Gale, senior veep of development Loretha Jones and senior director of development Jason Weiss. At Par, senior veep Dan Levine, veep Matt Jackson and director creative affairs Eben Davidson are shepherding; Vincent and Coz Lazouras oversee at Diesel’s Tigon Studios.

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