Departure caused by budget, tone differences

Kenny Ortega has ankled as director of “Footloose” over differences with Paramount Pictures on tone and budget.

The move comes just before Ortega’s Michael Jackson concert film “This Is It” bows on Wednesday.

Par is beginning the search for a new director who will keep the pic on track to start production in March, when star Chace Crawford is on hiatus from “Gossip Girl.” Crawford is starring with Julianne Hough, the “Dancing With the Stars” hoofer and country singer who became top choice last June and recently locked the female lead after wowing the studio with her screen test.

“Footloose” is a remake of the 1984 drama about a city kid (a star-making turn for Kevin Bacon) who moves to a conservative town and rebels against its no-dance law. Insiders said Ortega wanted to make a picture with elaborately staged musical numbers at a budget of $30 million or so. Par production chief Adam Goodman wanted an edgier drama with less emphasis on the musical numbers and a budget around $25 million or less.

The disagreement continued until Ortega decided his dance with the studio had ended.

After choreographing “Dirty Dancing” and directing three “High School Musical” films, Ortega should have the biggest opener of his career when “This Is It” is unveiled.

Columbia Pictures has said the picture will have only a two-week run around the world, but insiders suggest “This Is It” will likely be expanded “by popular demand” if it becomes the expected blockbuster.

Ortega, who shot rehearsal footage of Jackson’s concert series for promoters AEG, was attached as director when AEG shopped the concert footage to studios in July.

Paramount and Ortega confirmed the split but took the high road in a statement attributed to Ortega’s camp: “Coming off the extraordinary project, Michael Jackson’s ‘This is It,’ director Kenny Ortega has decided it is premature for him to commit to his next film and will not be moving forward with ‘Footloose’ as previously reported.”

Ortega is repped by Paradigm.

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