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Caravan ‘Tracks’ Roberts

Caravan Pictures announced the completion Monday of a deal that delivers both Hollywood’s hottest screenplay and its top female star: The reported $ 1 million acquisition of Ruth Graham’s screenplay “Tracks” with Julia Roberts attached to star.

To be produced by Todd Black and Sarah Radclyffe, “Tracks” is the true story of Robyn Davidson, who made history in 1978 when she crossed the Australian outback alone with three camels and dog. Sponsored by National Geographic, the trek was periodically photographed by Rick Smolan withwhom Davidson had a stormy relationship.

As far as production, Caravan founder Joe Roth said “Tracks” is a slam dunk. “This is a completed screenplay. There’s a producer on it, and an actress is ready to make it her next movie, so this is our Christmas 1995 release,” he said.

Roberts’ reported pay-or-play $ 8 million deal for “Tracks” is significant because it closes out the fourth of four slots that her management had been trying to fill for the star.

It will follow Roberts’ comeback in director Alan Pakula’s “The Pelican Brief ,” the Caravan/Touchstone Pictures project “I Love Trouble” and TriStar Pictures’ “Mary Reilly” on her schedule.

“Tracks” will go out to directors immediately. It is anticipated that the movie will go into pre-production late in 1994 for production to begin early in 1995, if weather conditions permit filming in Australia’s outback country at that time.

Caravan Pictures has a two-year deal with Roberts, which led to the company’s preemptive buy of the property.

Roth said Roberts called him Thursday night to tell him that all she wanted for Christmas was the “Tracks” screenplay “so we all read the script as quickly as possible.”

“Tracks” was kept alive over a lengthy development process through the efforts of producer Black, who was able to get Roberts to commit to the project without a major studio attached.

Black is married to screenwriter Graham — a business/creative amalgam that previously spawned the arthouse fare “Becoming Colette.”

Caravan founders Roth and Roger Birnbaum likely will take executive producers’ credits on the movie, which represents a tip of the cap to producers of record Black and Radclyffe for bringing the pic to the fore.

The property was excluded from Black’s current first-look deal with director Randa Haines at 20th Century Fox because development of the property pre-dated the pact.

The “Tracks” deal continues to demonstrate the value of Disney’s long-term relationship with Caravan Pictures, which was designed as a mechanism to get the studio in the business of big-budget, star-driven properties.

The year-old relationship has recently put Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg in the business of distributing movies with such stars as Charlie Sheen (“Three Musketeers”), Geena Davis (“Angie, I Says”) and Roberts.

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