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Zaentz doesn’t rest on his Golden Laurel

Producer Saul Zaentz recalled the one day he missed of shooting “The English Patient.”

While Zaentz was away in London, director Anthony Minghella broke his ankle, forcing the helmer to leave the set for two hours.

“We didn’t take away his pay,” Zaentz quipped Wednesday night as he accepted the Producers Guild of America’s Golden Laurel Award.

Zaentz was joined at the ceremony by Minghella (he went on to shoot “Patient” from a wheelchair and later in a cast) and cinematographer John Seale.

Zaentz also won a special Vision Award from Eastman Kodak, an honor also given to “The Great War.”

“This year is a madhouse of what can happen,” Zaentz said of the pic’s recognition.

The awards, at the Universal City Hilton, are smaller and more informal than other guild ceremonies, but nevertheless attracted a mix of producing vets and those new to the scene. Among them: Paula Wagner, who accepted a special Nova award she received along with Tom Cruise for producing “Mission: Impossible.”

Big backend savings

Par’s Sherry Lansing, presenting the award, noted that they were able to keep the budget in the $50 million range after they originally drew up a projection of $70 million-plus. She credited Cruise for waiving his salary for the backend.

After that, Lansing noted, Cruise could look to others and say: “I’ve given the production $20 million, now what are you going to do?”

“Touched by an Angel” producer Martha Williamson, accepting another Nova award, noted “I’m not like a lot of producers here. For one, I live in Pasadena.”

Building from passion

She said of the series and its offshoot “Promised Land”: “I had a passion I believed in, and was able to bring that to TV.”

Edgar Scherick, producer of “Rambling Rose” and “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,” accepted the David Susskind Lifetime Achievement Award from Marlo Thomas. She noted that Scherick — an ABC executive at the time — gave her a big boost that led to “That Girl.”

One of the biggest laughs went to Billy Wilder, who accepted the David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award from Shirley MacLaine.

Wilder, 90, took the mike and simply told a joke about an elderly man who goes to the doctor. ” ‘I can’t pee,’ he tells the doctor. The doctor says, ‘How old are you?’ ‘Ninety,’ the man says. ‘He says, ‘You’ve peed enough.’ ”

Said MacLaine of the legendary writer-director-producer: “He’s a man whose mind is like God’s little garden. Everything grows there. Nothing ever dies.”

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