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Fox, Cameron opting out of ‘Terminator 3’

Twentieth Century Fox and James Cameron — the writer and director of “Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” — said on Friday that they will no longer pursue the rights to “Terminator 3,” the next installment in the highly successful franchise series.

Representatives for both parties said the decision not to make “T3” was made in order to curtail runaway costs that would be incurred before even a script had been written. They also said they wanted to avoid the intense media scrutiny they have received on “Titanic.”

Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Bill Mechanic told Daily Variety that because Cameron no longer wants to make the film, Fox would not take part in the Oct. 14 bankruptcy auction at which Carolco’s half of the prequel, sequel and remake rights to “Terminator” and “Terminator 2” will be sold off.

Whether the announcement by Fox and Cameron is just pre-auction posturing, the result of a deal gone awry, or a firm withdrawal from the process, is not entirely clear, but both parties say they are looking at other projects to develop together as a franchise.

Though no contracts had been drawn up, after nine months spent negotiating with Cameron to direct, Arnold Schwarzenegger to star and producer Gale Anne Hurd for her half-interest in the sequel rights, Mechanic said Fox always intended to buy the portion of the rights owned by Carolco. But because Fox was negotiating with the three principals to make the film for about the same price as “Terminator 2,” the added coin needed to buy the rights at auction would have made it impossible to make the film for anywhere near “T2’s” estimated $95 million budget.

The stage was set last month, when Carolco co-founder Andy Vajna negotiated with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to secure the “Terminator” sequel rights for himself, establishing a $7.5 million floor at the Oct. 14 overbid auction. Bidders have the right to better Vajna’s bid in increments of $250,000. Vajna can match any higher offer that may come in during the auction.

“Right now Jim (Cameron) has decided not to make this movie, and we have always said we will only make it with Jim,” said Mechanic. “It’s Jim’s franchise and we would not make it without him.”

Speaking on Cameron’s behalf, Rae Sanchini, president of the helmer’s Lightstorm Entertainment, said, “We are officially withdrawing from the competition for ‘Terminator 3.’ Jim feels he has said everything he has needed to say in terms of the ‘Terminator’ franchise, and we are pursuing other things.”

It’s unclear if any other parties beside Fox and Vajna — who reportedly is bidding for the rights for himself and his former Carolco cohort, Mario Kassar — were planning to participate in the auction. Film executives estimate that the price for the rights could go well beyond the $7.5 million floor. Some estimated the price could go as high as $12 million.

Fox recently was criticized in the Los Angeles Times for not going after Carolco’s half of the rights before negotiating deals with Cameron, Schwarzenegger and Hurd.

Despite the worldwide popularity of the two previous “Terminator” films, Mechanic and Cameron are skittish to embark on another picture that would draw the level of scrutiny that “Titanic” has received. Cameron has always toyed with record-setting film budgets, but the intense financial risk of “Titanic” has created incredible pressure on Fox, which is footing the majority of the film’s $180 million-plus budget.

“I think they still plan to make this film,” said a Fox source. “They’ve spent too much time getting most of their ducks in a row to give up on it now. This could be just a way of making it feel like they’re not interested, so the price will go down.”

Representatives for the Carolco auction couldn’t be reached for comment; and it’s not clear whether Fox has officially removed its name from the auction list yet.

Sanchini said Cameron has given his blessing for Hurd and Schwarzenegger to pursue other outlets and possibly make the film with another director. Schwarzenegger’s agent couldn’t be reached for comment, but a source said Schwarzenegger has said he would not do the film without Cameron at the helm.

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