In a sign that Sherry Lansing is wasting no time making her mark as chairman of Paramount Pictures’ Motion Picture Group, the studio has bought Joe Eszterhas’ “Jade”–a two-page outline written several years ago–for an aggregate outlay of $ 2.5 million, provided the movie gets made.
While $ 1.5 million of the amount will go directly to Eszterhas for writing the screenplay, the other $ 1 million is being divided among several individuals who had claims on the project dating from when it was under development at the now-defunct Weintraub Entertainment.
The Robert Evans production is tentatively scheduled to begin filming next summer with Evans producing, the same job he’s now doing on Par’s “Sliver,” another Eszterhas-scripted project.
Evans and Eszterhas are taking less than their normal fees in order to accommodate the high upfront expenditures.
Craig Baumgarten and Gary Adelson, attached to the project when it was initially set up at Weintraub Entertainment in 1988, will line-produce the film.
The deal, which closed late Thursday and was brokered by Eszterhas’ agent, ICM’s Guy McElwaine, is the first to be made by Paramount since Lansing was appointed film division chairman Wednesday.
For Eszterhas, one of the industry’s highest-paid screenwriters, the deal is extremely rich, in light of the recent slowdown in the spec script market and the fact that Par shelled out big bucks for only a two-page treatment, not a finished script. In addition to his writing fee of $ 1.5 million, Eszterhas will receive at least $ 350,000 as the film’sexecutive producer.
What makes the deal even sweeter for Eszterhas is that he was paid $ 500,000 when the project was first sold to Weintraub Entertainment, making the deal worth almost $ 2.5 million for the screenwriter.
“This is an amazing deal,” said McElwaine. “This is unheard of.”
While Par exex would not disclose the financial details of the deal, sources say that Kenneth Kleinberg, who was president of Weintraub Entertainment Group and Robert Lang, the company’s head of business affairs, were granted, in lieu of financial compensation, rights to various Weintraub projects, including “Jade ,” when the company filed for bankruptcy.
A third claimant was Bank of America, which was also overseeing the company’s bankruptcy and liquidation. All three will now get a piece of the $ 1 million.
Neither Kleinberg nor Lang could be reached for comment.
Evans, Robert Evans Prods. prez Bill Macdonald and Eszterhas initiated their discussion about the project last June with Brandon Tartikoff, who abruptly resigned as chairman of the studio Oct. 29.
But because of the complex nature of the deal and the settling of the pay-outs to various claimants, the deal was not consummated until one day after Lansing’s appointment, when Evans submitted Eszterhas’ outline to Lansing, who read the treatment during lunch Thursday and moved quickly to make a deal. Evans said that it was one of the most complicated deals he’s ever been involved with.
“The unwinding of it was very, very difficult,” Evans said, “but in the end, it was worth it. If the picture is half as interesting as putting it together was, this will be like ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Basic Instinct’ combined.”
According to Evans, who describes “Jade” as “a jarringly, exciting love triangle story,” Eszterhas approached him with the project while the duo was at work on “Sliver.”
Eszterhas said he plans to begin work on “Jade,” which he calls “a story about sexual identity,” immediately and hopes to turn in a draft of the screenplay early next year.
Asked about his latest spec script, “Layers of Skin,” which reportedly will go out on auction soon, Eszterhas said, “I’m still working on it. I’ve done three drafts, but I’m not happy enough with it for it to go out to the marketplace.”
While Evans declined to discuss possible casting, sources say that Sharon Stone has already expressed interest in one of the film’s roles. Stone is currently starring, with William Baldwin, in “Sliver.”