Altman's projects pose problem for Picturehouse

The death Monday of Robert Altman has put into jeopardy Picturehouse’s feature based on the 1997 docu “Hands on a Hard Body,” which Altman was to direct and produce.

Altman and screenwriter Stephen Harrigan were calling agents as recently as last weekend over possible casting attachments for the pic, which was set to go into production in early 2007. But the project is now in doubt.

Picturehouse topper Bob Berney said that while no official decision has been made, the fact that the auteur had a particular vision for his pics would make it tricky to transfer “Hard Body” to another director.

“It’s going to be very tough,” Berney told Daily Variety. “This was conceived as a Robert Altman film, and I’m not sure there can be any other way to do it.”

Altman’s Sandcastle 5 shingle was on board to produce the pic. Harrigan is best known as a telepic scribe, penning adaptations of “Murder on the Orient Express,” as well as Hallmark Entertainment’s “The Colt” and an O.J. Simpson movie for 20th Century Fox Television.

S.R. Bindler’s original doc focused on an eclectic group of contestants who compete to win a truck by keeping a hand on it for days at a time, taking just short bathroom breaks. Movie was a character-driven story that elicited the dramas of a small Texas town.

How that jagged material would work as a feature was an open question, but Berney said that Altman had an idea to shape real-life events into a fictional story similar to his Garrison Keillor-inspired “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Picturehouse acquired and released “Companion,” Altman’s final film, in the spring; helmer had recently completed the commentary track on the DVD, which was released last month.

Altman was reportedly moving ahead quickly on “Hard Body,” partly out of a general work ethic but also out of a sense of mortality.

“He would joke that because of his age, he would need to have a backup director,” Berney said of the project. “But of course you can’t really have a backup director on a Robert Altman movie.”

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