‘Iron’ mans May ’08 date

Marvel makes plan for comicbook pic

While several tentpoles, such as the second “Chronicles of Narnia” film from Disney, are slated for 2008, “Iron Man” is the first to claim a firm date, taking the first weekend of May.

Move comes as Marvel is trying to aggressively demonstrate it’s moving ahead with its internally financed film slate, despite the surprise departure of former topper Avi Arad last month.

It also comes as Marvel has yet to nail down financing for “Iron Man,” along with “The Incredible Hulk,” which also may come out in 2008.

When Marvel set up the $525 million credit facility for its 10-picture slate with Merrill Lynch in April 2005, comicbook company had yet to re-acquire rights to “The Hulk” from Universal and “Iron Man” from New Line.

According to terms of the agreement, Marvel can attach new characters to the loan but must receive permission from Merrill Lynch. Marvel general counsel John Turitzin said the company expects to start talks on “Iron Man” soon and hopes to secure permission in the fall, sometime before the pic is officially greenlit and starts production late this year or early 2007.

Experts said deal is likely to get the blessing of financing entities; since screen rights to the characters will be used as collateral, financiers would prefer stronger brands like “Iron Man” and “The Hulk” to “Nick Fury,” “Ant Man” and others on the original slate.

But observers were less optimistic that Marvel would succeed in renegotiating terms with the banks — such as lower interest rates — which the studio might seek now that it is moving forward with higher-profile pics.

If the banks did balk, Turitzin said Marvel would line up other financing or license a fully developed “Iron Man” to a studio, but he stressed that such a scenario is “very remote.”

However, including these two movies in the Merrill Lynch debt facility would compel Marvel to either increase the loan amount — which Turitzin said the company has no plans to do — or have less money to put toward other projects.

Jon Favreau is attached to direct “Iron Man.” Marvel currently has two separate writing teams — Matt Hollaway and Art Markum (“Convoy”), and Mark Fergus and Hawk Otsby (“First Snow”) — working on drafts.

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