Mini casts refugees as extras

GOOD MORNING from Venice–Italy, that is, where we found the returning-from-Yugoslavia troupe of Sidney Sheldon’s “Sands of Time.” They had been filming in Roving in Croatia, about 2 1/2 hours from Venice by car. There had been no problems because of the fighting, bombing, shellings. As a matter of fact, Michael Viner said they wound the four-hour mini one day ahead of sked and at $6 million. He credits the herculean effort to director Gary Nelson plus the cast, which includes Nina Foch, Roddy McDowall, Amanda Plummer, Elizabeth Gracen , Michael Nouri, Line Renaud and James Brolin. “Plus 1,000 displaced persons,” said Viner. They were used as extras. They also received (much) food from the company’s caterers. The mini is a joint production with Tribune, WB Intl. and Yugoslavia’s Jadran Studio. Mike Mihalic of Jadran was also here with Viner and the departing members of “Sands.” They R&R’d at the world-famous Cipriani Hotel, on the island of Giudecca, across the bay from Venice. It looks out at St. Mark’s–one of the world’s most awe-inspiring sights. … Viner said the company had a great “communal spirit” during the filming, helping make the production a pleasant experience despite the tragedy in the surrounding country. They were able to capture sights on film that were “physically the richest I’ve ever seen, ” enthused producer Viner. He took five days off from the mini shooting to observe the “live” shooting in Sarajevo–as a reporter for Jack Anderson. He traveled with press credentials and told me he became friendly with one of the Serb officers, who warned him one day that shelling would begin at 4 p.m. At 4:01 it began, said Viner, who had taken refuge in military h.q.–in the Holiday Inn.

DESPITE THE WAR in Yugoslavia, there were two other companies filming in the country, said Viner. But they had only short skeds. Yugoslavia, long a favorite, economical location for Hollywood, will convert the Jadran studios and facilities to private ownership. Viner added he would be involved in their future co-production plans. He already has two more projects to do with Jadran. And is planning sequels to “Sands of Time” and “Windmills of the Gods,” by Sidney Sheldon. Latter, who is exec producing the current “Sands” (Richard Hack and Viner scripted), is en route from Paris and Rome to Venice and the hotel Cipriani. A bigscreen feature being planned by mishap, by the way, in the filming of the current mini occurred when a pane of glass cut a 4-inch gash in Roddy McDowall’s arm–the falling glass having barely missed his head. Also luckily, they were shooting in a hospital! Roddy was back at work on the set in an hour and a half. Other cast members who were here, by the way, include Tony LoBianco, Martin Balsam and Connie Towers. As well as Deborah Raffin, of course (she’s married to Viner), who stars. She is now in Toronto readying to star in a legit “Beau Geste,” bowing July 2. Husband Viner stops in Canada one day and continues on to L.A., where this week his Dove Books on Tape records Bill Clinton for a cassette of speeches that includes candidates George Bush and Ross Perot as well. The latter two are already acquired, said Viner, who will rush the special edition. He also has a deal with Interactive Videos and Philips and Mexico’s Televisa for Dove Books on Tape in Spanish. Viner confirmed that Dove Audio has added Lester Korn to its board–look for Dove to go public one of these days. It currently has six books on tape on the New York Times list, Viner proudly said.

INTERNATIONAL TRAVELERS who stopped here at the Cipriani in the past week include Peter Boyle and Gene Wilder. We trained down here to Venice from Lake Como, and our fellow passengers included a group of wildflower enthusiasts from Australia, Argentinian doctors and–Italians on vacation! The trains in Italy are the way to travel. They’re quick, quiet, clean and have services including a dining car should you want to eat while enjoying the endless green scenery. Everything’s growing tall in Italy–you can almost see the corn adding inches as you speed past! There was a lot of rain earlier this year–and occasionally now. We chose to bring along a box lunch from the Hotel D’Este in Lake Como. P.S.: They had catered the dinner for the “Viva Hollywood Merit of Achievement Awards” last Friday–everything from caviar to lobster, filet mignon, champagnes and Italian wines. The chicken sandwich for the train was a good choice, too. During our Como stay, we made a quick dash to Milan, 25 minutes away, also by train. We previewed a site to be welcomed by fest and marketeers next year–the in-construction Regent Milan. It’s right in the heart of Via Riga and Monte Napoleone streets, the area all visitors to Milan know as the birthplace of Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive shops–only more so. The Regent Milan here is the diamond in Bob Burns’ necklace of international hotels–each room costing more than a million dollars to build! Brian Baggett is supervising. The day we peeked in, he had just checked out the latest high-definition projection systems for the hotel’s rooms. Should be an assist for film-TV salesmen and buyers next year.

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