Studio offers 'Starship' producer two-year deal

Twentieth Century Fox has made an exclusive, two-year producing deal with David T. Friendly, who’ll devote his newly minted Friendly Films banner to making films for the 20th, Fox 2000, Regency, Fox Searchlight and Fox Atomic labels.

Deal with 20th marks Friendly’s first overall producing pact since he and Marc Turtletaub split after a six-year run at Deep River Prods., an alliance that hatched “Little Miss Sunshine” for Fox Searchlight.

Friendly has a long history of producing films for Fox. He recently completed production on “Starship Dave,” the Brian Robbins-directed Eddie Murphy comedy that Fox will open May 30, and which he produced with A Guy Walks Into a Bar Prods.

Friendly is developing a third installment of “Big Momma’s House,” the Martin Lawrence comedy that he’ll produce for Regency with Michael Green. Don Rhymer is writing the script. Friendly also teamed with John Davis to produce “Dr. Dolittle” and “Courage Under Fire” for the studio.

“We are very selective about making these deals, but David has been a superb hands-on producer for the studio,” said Hutch Parker, vice chairman of 20th Century Fox Film Group. “He is a consistent supplier of commercial films.”

Friendly is the son of legendary CBS News president Fred Friendly. David Friendly followed the family path to journalism, writing for Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times before being brought into the film business by Imagine’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard in 1987. After seven years, he became president of Davis Entertainment before aligning with Turtletaub.

“Tom Rothman and Hutch have always been big supporters of mine, and they’ve stuck with me through thick and thin,” Friendly said. “There are five divisions, and if I can’t sell a picture to one of them, it probably means I am not going to be able to sell it anywhere.”

Friendly’s last outing, Deep River, provided development financing from Turtletaub, whose resources came from his family’s sale of the Money Store lending institution. The company produced several films, including “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Laws of Attraction” and “The Honeymooners.”

“The hard part of being on your own like that is not having a studio with some skin in the game, though ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ made the whole thing worthwhile and profitable,” Friendly said. “It’ll be nice to be able to bring a laser focus to one studio, with Fox behind me.”

Friendly will keep his off-lot offices, and has promoted former assistant Felipe Linz to director of development, with Amanda Toye serving as story editor.

Friendly will also continue to shepherd several existing projects outside his Fox pact. They include “Office Romance,” a comedy recently set at DreamWorks, which is being written by Marc Hyman (“Meet the Fockers”) from Friendly’s original idea.

“Tin Cup” co-writers Ron Shelton and John Norville are working on a golf comedy called “Q School,” about the tournament that qualifies players for the PGA Tour. Shelton will direct, and development is being financed by private equity investor Steve Rader. Friendly will produce, with his brother, Andy Friendly, Lou Pitt and Rader exec producing.

Also on Friendly’s plate is “The Warden,” a biopic of Sing-Sing prison warden Lewis Lawes, who formed a baseball team that played the New York Yankees at the prison; “Don’t Send Help,” a comedy project with Turtletaub for Fox Atomic; and “Soul Men,” the Samuel L. Jackson-Bernie Mac comedy that Dimension will put into production in January.

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