Director finalizing 'Angels' before strike

As Hollywood scrambles to make deals before the Oct. 31 expiration of the WGA pact, one fast-tracked project has almost flown under the radar — though it could become one of the biggest films assembled during this frenzied period.

Columbia has formalized a February start in Europe for “Angels & Demons,” the Ron Howard-directed sequel to “The Da Vinci Code” that will be released in December 2008.

Producers Brian Grazer and John Calley, Col, Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman are seeking to finalize the shooting script before next week’s deadline. Meanwhile, the “Angels” team have begun casting around Tom Hanks, who will reprise his role as Robert Langdon.

The film guarantees a manic year for Howard, who will be multi-tasking to get the picture done. Howard will shoot “Angels & Demons” as he supervises editing and post-production on the screen adaptation of the Peter Morgan play “Frost/Nixon.” That film, which Howard wrapped shooting last week, has tentatively been slotted for a late 2008 release.

This means Howard could have a double-pronged post-production schedule and will have two high-profile projects opening in a relatively short time.

The rush-rush schedule echoes Steven Spielberg’s back-to-back shooting of “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List” and Clint Eastwood’s double duty on “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima.”

Hanks’ character, a Harvard-based expert on religious symbols, this time sleuths a mystery that involves a secret society and a conspiracy that leads to Vatican City and threatens the future of the Catholic Church.

Dan Brown wrote “Angels & Demons” prior to “The Da Vinci Code,” but after the first film grossed $218 million domestic and $758 million worldwide, the studio made a seven-figure deal with Goldsman to turn the earlier novel into a sequel (Daily Variety, May 24, 2006).

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