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Fox 2000 toeing ‘Red Line’

NEW YORK — Phoenix Pictures, which has been developing the James Jones novel “The Thin Red Line” as the return vehicle for director Terrence Malick, is finalizing talks with Fox to partly finance and distribute the film under Laura Ziskin’s Fox 2000 banner, source said.

The deal is being worked out by Phoenix chairman/CEO Mike Medavoy and 20th Century Fox president Bill Mechanic, clearing the way for the film to start production on schedule in June in Australia.

Both Medavoy and Fox declined comment on the negotiations, but sources said the deal will be structured as a negative pickup in which Fox will finance most of the $45 million film in exchange for domestic distribution and most other world rights.

Hot young cast

The development occurred after talks with Sony Pictures Entertainment hit a snag and both parties decided Phoenix should look elsewhere. For Fox, the deal could be a brilliant move if Malick locks in a cast that is turning into a who’s who of hot young actors in Hollywood.

Malick has gotten commitments from George Clooney, Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Viggo Mortensen and Woody Harrelson, and is closing in on John Travolta and Edward Norton, said sources. He’s also in talks with such actors as Tim Roth and Leonardo DiCaprio to enlist.

Though such starpower and a full-scale battlefield pic seems impossible for the $45 million pricetag, the cast is working on a favored nations pay basis which is far below their current asking prices. Basically, they all wanted to work with Malick.

Large-scale comeback

That is surprising since the director poised to lead them into battle has been AWOL since 1978, when he directed “Days of Heaven.” He’s chosen a film as ambitious and large scale as that for his return. “The Thin Red Line” covers the battle of Guadalcanal in 1942 and Malick’s 193-page script features about 54 speaking roles.

Many of the big names are expected to work short stints in high profile cameos. The director has worked on the script for 10 years with producers Robert Geisler and John Roberdeau. Malick finally got it moving when his old friend Medavoy got his financing together at Phoenix Pictures.

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