Despite strike, many films ready to go

The studios have spent the better part of the last year trying to protect themselves from possible strike effects.

There are as many as 50 studio movies ready to go into production now if writers walk, and most of the majors have managed to muster together at least five pictures with scripts and plots strong enough to overcome the potential lack of a WGA member on set to execute revisions.

And that doesn’t include films being made by studio specialty arms or projects funded by the likes of Media Rights Capital, which will spend $250 million to finance eight films that include the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy “Bruno,” Ricky Gervais comedy “This Side of the Truth,” Robert Rodriguez-directed “Shorts,” and the Richard Kelly-directed thriller “The Box” with Cameron Diaz. Only “Bruno” has a distribution deal, made at Universal prior to the release of “Borat.”

Studios say they have ready many scripts that could be slotted for production instantly if the right star becomes available. Tom Cruise, for instance, has been eyeing the Terry George-directed “Edwin A. Salt” at Columbia and the Todd Phillips-directed comedy “Men” at Warners, but he hasn’t landed on a pre-strike film. If he does, someone will have a big picture.

Unlike in television, which is far more exposed, the natural cycle of making movies means studios have had ample time to prepare for a walkout, whether by writers, whose contract expires at midnight, or actors, whose contract is up next summer.

“For now, it’s a television strike, not a movie strike. Everybody has done their films for 2008 and part of 2009. It would need a very long strike, six or seven months, to have an impact,” said one veteran industry player.

If there’s a strike, studios also can get out of producing deals under the force majeure clause included in almost all such pacts. Agencies, too, can shed agents under force majeure. Companies used that “out” plenty during the writers strike in 1988.

For the most part, most studio 2008 slates aren’t an issue, since those movies are either done or safely along in the process, save for some of the late-year titles. The threat of a strike has meant that they are going into production sooner than they normally would have with 2009 films, or pics slated for release toward the end of 2008.

“We strongly hope (a strike) doesn’t happen, but most feature companies have been preparing for over a year and are fully ready. And if a long strike eventually led to a reduction of the number of films made, that might be a good thing anyway,” a studio source said.

Surprisingly few of the production starts are last-minute surprises. Mindful of past mistakes of rushing half-baked scripts into production to beat a strike or threat of a strike — such as what happened during the de facto strike of 2001 — studio prexies have been restrained.

Paramount, pleased with revisions done by scribe Stuart Beattie, has officially set a Feb. 13 start date for “G.I. Joe,” an event-sized film that went from a pre-strike question mark to an anchor of the studio’s summer 2009 release schedule. Paramount is in talks with up-and-comer Sam Worthington to star, and the studio was down to working out any scheduling overlap with Fox, which has Worthington starring in the James Cameron-directed “Avatar.”

At Par, “G.I. Joe” joins the J.J. Abrams-directed “Star Trek,” the Roger Michell-directed “Morning Glory,” a redo of “Friday the 13th” and “Shutter Island,” a late addition to the slate that has Martin Scorsese set to direct and Leonardo DiCaprio to star.

Twentieth Century Fox has several movies headed to the starting line. While Jamie Vanderbilt and Scott Silver have been honing the script, “Wolverine” is a definite go, with a May 2009 release date. Also on the launch pad for a Dec. 12, 2008, release is “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” a Scott Derrickson-directed remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic that will star Keanu Reeves as the alien visitor Klaatu.

Fox also is plotting starts for the thriller “They Came From Upstairs,” “Max Payne” and the comedy “Trouble Man.” Regency will add “Bride Wars,” and Fox 2000 expects to make the David Frankel-directed “Marley and Me” with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, and the Nicole Kidman starrer “Monte Carlo.” Fox Atomic will put three films in production: “Brad Cutter Ruined My Life Again,” “Ticket to Ride,” and “Jennifer’s Body.”

While Universal was still firming up start dates, the studio has locked enough scripts to put as many as nine films into production by next March.

They include a new romantic comedy by director Richard Curtis called “The Boat That Rocked,” the Kevin Macdonald-directed “State of Play” with Brad Pitt, the Brad Silberling-directed “Land of the Lost” with Will Ferrell, “Repossession Mambo” with Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, the Paul W.S. Anderson-directed “Death Race” with Jason Statham, the Benicio Del Toro starrer “Wolfman,” the Tony Gilroy-directed drama “Duplicity,” and “The Fast and the Furious 4″ with Justin Lin directing Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Paul Greengrass has Matt Damon ready to star in his untitled Green Zone project.

Studio was less certain about several other films that included “Nottingham,” the revisionist adventure that has Russell Crowe poised to play the Sheriff of Nottingham for director Ridley Scott. Both of them are in Morocco shooting the WB film “Body of Lies” with DiCaprio.

Disney plans to put seven movies in production by March. Studio starts with “Shopaholic” in early January, followed by the Adam Sandler-Adam Shankman comedy “Bedtime Stories,” a reinvention of “Witch Mountain” that stars Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, two transfers of Disney Channel hits in “High School Musical 3″ and “Hannah Montana,” Sandra Bullock starrer “The Proposal,” and “Christmas Carol,” the Robert Zemeckis-directed film that features Jim Carrey in numerous roles. Most of those films were long planned, and not stimulated by a strike deadline. Studio had hoped to move forward with another tentpole, “Prince of Persia,” but likely will have to wait until a labor resolution.

DreamWorks, which just began production on the Peter Jackson-directed “The Lovely Bones,” scheduled November starts for the Emma Roberts/Don Cheadle starrer “Hotel for Dogs” and the DJ Caruso-directed Shia LaBeouf starrer “Eagle Eye.”

DreamWorks starts production of the Jamie Foxx-Robert Downey Jr. starrer “The Soloist,” the Brian Robbins-directed Eddie Murphy comedy “A Thousand Words” and “Wednesday,” a thriller directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (“28 Weeks Later”). Not on the pre-strike list is “Transformers 2,” a sequel that is still being written. Labor talks will determine whether the visual effects-heavy film makes its projected June 26, 2009, release date.

Columbia Pictures had finalized starts on “Bond 22,” penned by Paul Haggis, “Da Vinci Code” sequel “Angels & Demons” with Ron Howard directing and Tom Hank starring, a Tony Scott-directed remake of “The Taking of Pelham 123″ that just got John Travolta to star alongside Denzel Washington, and the Will Smith starrer “Seven Pounds,” directed by Gabriele Muccino. Studio is just getting under way with the Judd Apatow-produced comedy “Year One” with Jack Black, Michael Cera and director Harold Ramis.

While Warner Bros. has set a start date on the Jim Carrey comedy “Yes Man,” the studio was still working out several production start possibilities on several tentpole-sized films. The studio has been working with screenwriter Eric Roth and director Mira Nair to trim the budget on the adventure drama “Shantaram,” with the film’s producer, Johnny Depp, standing by to star. Also, Warners is hoping to begin production in the spring on “Justice League,” with George Miller directing.

After making a distribution deal with financier Halcyon, WB has McG prepping “Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins,” a film it has slotted for summer 2009. Warners also is looking to put Todd Phillips’ “Hangover,” “Observe and Report,” “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” and “The Jetsons” into production.

New Line has “Four Christmases” with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” with Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner, “Seventeen” with Zac Efron and Leslie Mann, and “My Sister’s Keeper,” the Nick Cassavetes-directed drama with Cameron Diaz and Dakota and Elle Fanning.

Focus Features will go into production with “A Serious Man,” directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, “Vanished” and “Curveball.” Production is under way on “Sin Nombre.”

The Weinstein Co. starts production in January on the Kevin Smith-directed comedy “Zach and Miri,” “Shanghai,” and “Nine,” the Rob Marshall-directed adaptation of the stage musical. Dimension Films starts production late in the year on the Fred Durst-directed “Comeback,” with Ice Cube starring.

(Diane Garrett, Dave McNary and Tatiana Siegel contributed to this report.)

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