Two ‘Titanics’ on collision course

GOOD MORNING: How do the two “Titanic” productions feel about each other — the two being the 20th Century Fox/Paramount $100 million feature for summer ’97 release and the four-hour CBS Hallmark mini for November airing? I had just gotten off the phone with Rob Lieberman, directing the TV’er in Vancouver — he had been filming until 4 ayem Thursday — when I received a return call from Rae San-chini, exec producer of the Jim Cameron bigscreen epic. The latter had completed scenes in Halifax, a day in L.A. and will pick up production next month in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, where 20th is building a studio — three stages, an enormous tank and assorted affiliated facilities for this feature and others to come. The hope is it will attract companies to shoot near the border. Sanchini’s take on the TV’er: “We think it’s terri-fic — it’s being made by quality producers and I think it’ll be stimulating, in fact, for us.” Lieberman like-wise said, “I think (ours) will whet the appetite (of moviegoers) for his (Cameron’s). His will be larger in special effects. My special effects will only cost about $1 million. Ours is like a ‘Ship of Fools’; his is like ‘Twister.’ I want ours to have the look of a Merchant-Ivory movie.” But they built a 160-foot section of the Titanic at Norco Studios in Vancouver, capable of a 22-degree tilt, and their water scenes are filmed in a tank at the University of British Columbia. He is shooting a total of 40 days (two weeks to go). Frank Konigsberg and Larry Sanitsky are producing and Francis Ford Coppola is exec producer … Lieberman said he thoroughly researched the story before starting to prep in Vancouver four months ago. “My goal is to have (20th’s) Peter Chernin say when he sees ours, ‘Why am I spending $100 million?’ But I have the greatest respect for Jim Cameron.” Cameron dove to the wreck of the Titanic in the North Atlantic — 12,378 feet in a Russian-built sub — to capture the “awesome sight,” says Sanchini. “The Titanic is a pas-sion of his (Cameron’s); he researched it to the nth degree.” She agreed George C. Scott “will be wonder-ful” playing the TV Titanic’s captain. The feature filmmakers have not yet closed a deal for their skipper nor for the role of (the unsinkable) Molly Brown. Marilu Henner, who’s Lieberman’s wife, plays Brown in the TV’er. He assures us it was Konigsberg and Sanitsky’s idea — not his. And she tells me, “I was born to play this role!” Others in the mini include: Eva Marie Saint, Tim Curry, Peter Gallagher, Michael Doyle, Sonsee Ahray and Catherine Zeta Jones … The feature boasts Bill Paxton as a contemporary, fictional character wrapping around the story as he captains the salvage operation. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are young lovers aboard the ill-fated vessel on its maiden voyage from Southampton in 1912. Bon voyage, you all.

FBI DIRECTOR, YES, president of the U.S., no: Sidney Poitier co-stars in Universal’s “Day of the Jackal” with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere — as the FBI director for director Michael Caton-Jones. But Poitier nixed the WB offer to play the president in “Contact,” starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McCo-naughey for Robert Zemeckis. Poitier, who has been closely working on post-production of Showtime’s “Mandela” with Bernie Sofronski and Joe Sargent, starts the “Jackal” shoot Wednesday … Brandon Tar-tikoff has named his new banner The H. Beale Co. Film buffs remember Howard Beale was the name of the newsman played by (posthumously Oscar-winning) Peter Finch — Beale begged for better TV pro-gramming. Tartikoff is not “mad as hell” as was Beale — he’s happy as can be with the many offers he’s received since Ron Perelman sold New World and Tartikoff’s Moving Targets production company over there. He can now reinstate his title as exec producer on the Aug. 26 ABC two-hour docu “New Passages,” based on Gail Sheehy’s book, produced-directed by Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple. Kate Jackson hosts the wraparounds and narration.

WHILE THE SUMMER’S STILL HERE, I’ll be taking Fridays off — I’ll be back in the office on Mondays … Daniel Benzali’s legalistics in “Murder One” were a big hit on the BBC, and he’s now been made an offer by Jonathan Shalit, head of the British Theater Co., to reprise Henry Fonda’s hit one-man performance as “Clarence Darrow.” Benzali, a Royal Shakespeare alumnus, loves the idea. He’s winding “Murder at 1600” with Wesley Snipes in Toronto. Benzali and fiancee Kim Cattrall could honeymoon in London with “Darrow”… Shari Lewis, winding (Saturday) six socko weeks playing Andy Williams’ theater in Branson, next tapes “Shari’s Passover Surprise” with Dom DeLuise as guestar. Saul Turteltaub scripted … Par’s A.C. Lyles intros Cecil B. De Mille’s 1932 “Sign of the Cross” screening at the National Gallery of Art on Sunday as part of its “Hollywood’s Rome” series. Lyles knew De Mille well. (So did I!) Also screening: “Quo Vadis,”‘Ben-Hur”– and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”!