Zaentz takes new prod’n tack

Two-time Oscar-winning producer Saul Zaentz has changed his game plan for producing upcoming projects. Next up on his plate are adaptations of the Booker Prize-winning novel “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje and the Italian book “Lies of the Night” by Gesualdo Bufalino.

That Zaentz is preparing two films simultaneously is the first novelty. Secondly, the man behind “Amadeus” and “The Mosquito Coast” has traditionally wholly financed his projects since he hit the mother lode with “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975.

Now, he’s seeking at least a 66% investment and as high as 80% from potential partners.

“If there was just one film on the horizon, I’d back the whole thing,” Zaentz said. “But because we can’t say which project will go first, it’s necessary to have some leeway. In the past, people have wanted to partner and now I guess I’ll find out if it was just conversation.”

Additionally, he admitted that the box office failure of his last film, “At Play in the Fields of the Lord,” proved to be a significant though not crippling blow to his company. The two new films are each expected to cost between $ 25 million and $ 35 million.

As things stand, he’s working on the assumption that “English Patient” will be first and before the cameras by mid-1994. Anthony Minghella (“Truly, Madly, Deeply”) is the writer-director of the World War II love story set in Italy, North Africa and the U.K., against the backdrop of the Allied invasion of Italy intertwining four characters in a fusion of reality and surrealism.

Locations will be determined this summer, including the use of the still-standing villa in which much of the action of the book is set. Zaentz said that although Ondaatje decided not to do the adaptation, he will be part of the creative and logistic team involved in bringing his book to screen.

“Lies of the Night,” based on Bufalino’s novel, reunites Zaentz with “Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus” director Milos Forman.