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Sluggish Savoy Revs Up Productin Under Fried

Since Rob Fried arrived in the executive suites at Savoy Pictures’ Santa Monica offices two months ago, the company has revived two movies, shelved another, acquired a talked-about debut pic and inked one of Hollywood’s biggest stars to a contract unprecedented in its size.

Savoy, seen by many in Hollywood circles as lethargic, has been brought to life. The jury will be out for some time as to whether the moves make sense, but, as many in the creative community point out, at least the company is moving.

Savoy hired Fried in November to help revive the foundering new film unit. After nearly a year of releasing films, Savoy didn’t have a single hit to its credit. Only one of its six films – a negative pickup of Paul Hogan’s “Lightning Jack” – actually made money. And one film, Garry Marshall’s “Exit to Eden,” lost a whopping $13 million.

Savoy toppers Victor Kaufman and Lewis J. Korman gave Fried former motion picture group prexy Alan Greisman’s duties as well as responsibility over the company’s marketing and distribution units.

“He really has much more authority,” Korman said. “He’s the one on the point.”

Fried, who has had modest success producing pix that include “Only You,” “Rudy” and “So I Married an Ax Murderer,” set up a production deal with Savoy in April. Earlier in his career, Fried served a two-year stint as executive veepee of production at Columbia.

As Greisman did before him, Fried will clearly get guidance from Frank Price, something of an elder statesman at Savoy, where the former Columbia Pictures topper has a production deal.

One of Fried’s first moves was to get “Steal Big, Steal Little,” director Andrew Davis’ much-anticipated follow to “The Fugitive,” on the production slate. The project had been lingering for more than a year, leading Davis to consider other pix – including 20th Century Fox’s “Dead Drop,” which he will helm this fall.

“Steal Big,” a pet project that Davis has been working on for years, was getting mired in the niggling details of the budget and bank financing. Fried worked with Davis to resolve the outstanding issues and hired George Gallo (“Midnight Run”) to do a script rewrite.

Such pet projects, which often get a greenlight on the strength of a director’s previous hit, can be risky business. Davis’ box office muscle is with actioners, while “Steal Big” is a comedy.

“We want to be in long-term business with Andy,” Fried said.

“Steal Big” is now set to go before cameras Feb. 13 and Andy Garcia has committed to star. And Fried said Davis already is talking with Savoy about making an actioner with the indie.

Fried also has spent significant time restructuring and reviving “A Simple Plan,” the Nicolas Cage project that had two directors – Mike Nichols and Ben Stiller – come and go before Fried came on the scene. When Fried arrived, the film looked to be dead.

Now John Dahl, who helmed “The Last Seduction,” will take over “Plan.” “Plan,” set in the winter, will likely start next winter in Canada or, perhaps, this summer in the southern hemisphere. And Cage remains on the project.

Fried also quickly extinguished “Inflammable,” the actioner that was to star Jamie Lee Curtis. The project, with Albert Ruddy and Andre Morgan attached as producers, is about a female Navy lieutenant who’s investigating an attempted rape complaint on a ship in the South Pacific.

The film had a projected budget of $20 million to $25 million, but costs continued escalating. When the tab topped $30 million, Savoy decided to pull the plug. At the same time, start dates were being pushed back to the point where the movie would conflict with Curtis’ starring in the follow-up to “A Fish Called Wanda.”

Having shelved the project, Savoy now is considering making the pic for HBO.

Fried also worked with Savoy-based producers Jackson McHenry Entertainment to pick up “Scenes for the Soul” from first-time Chicago filmmakers George Tillman Jr. and Robert Teitel and agreed to make the duo’s second pic. Fried calls the film “wonderful” and says the move illustrates Savoy’s interest in “working with emerging talent.”

Perhaps Savoy’s most eyebrow-raising move in the last few weeks was inking a deal for Sylvester Stallone to star in a movie for them in early 1996. The deal, which predates Fried, calls for Stallone to receive either $20 million or 20% of the amount Savoy grosses on the pic.

No film has been picked yet, though “Kilobyte,” a futuristic thriller that Fried was attached to under his production deal with Savoy, seems to have the early lead. The project, about a world hooked to virtual reality machines, has Chuck Russell (“The Mask”) attached to direct.

While Stallone’s track record in action-adventure fare is virtually unparalleled, the business sense of the deal is unclear. But even if Savoy winds up losing money on the movie, the deal shows that the company, which already has paid huge sums for screenplays, is now a major competitor for talent as well.

And while Fried tries to shape a studio in his image, it is a studio that many in Hollywood believe is being built to be sold. Kaufman and Korman made their mark in Hollywood building TriStar Pictures up, only to eventually sell it to Sony Corp.; they netted a tremendous amount of money in the process.

Savoy, in its three-year history, has raised vast sums of money and attracted some of Wall Street’s savviest investors, largely because of the track record of Kaufman and Korman. And while the duo consistently says there are no current plans to sell the studio, speculation lingers.

So if nothing else, Fried gets high marks for his enthusiasm. In just two months, the new prexy has begun to energize Savoy and get producers and staff excited about possibilities.

“What we have now is young men in a hurry,” said Jackson McHenry principal Doug McHenry.

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