Before he retired from basketball after testing positive for HIV, Earvin “Magic” Johnson dominated as a scoring and ball-handling guard. He’s about to become a formidable double threat in the film business as well. Already the owner of a growing chain of movie theaters, Johnson’s finalizing an overall deal to produce films at Fox.
Though the deal’s considered a slam dunk, Fox won’t comment until the paperwork’s done. Johnson expects to be based at Fox Family Films, although he’ll be able to develop films for any division, including Fox TV.
He is already searching for an established executive to run his new company and may immediately lend an assist to “Homeboy,” a comedy now in development at Fox Family Films about a family that adopts a child hoping he’ll become a pro basketball player.
The plan is for Johnson to join Trilogy Entertainment and Melinda Jason as producers. The comedy was scripted by Dode Levenson, Mark Brown and Rusty Cundieff. Cundieff (“Fear of a Black Hat”) is slated to direct.
Johnson was courted by Fox execs Bill Mechanic, Tom Sherak and Fox Family Films president Chris Meledandri, partly as an outgrowth of Johnson’s success on the exhibition side of the business. Johnson will be somewhat unique as a producer who also controls a growing number of movie screens in prime territories.
After forming a partnership with Sony Retail Entertainment to open the first of his Magic Johnson Theatres complexes in Baldwin Hills’ Crenshaw Plaza in 1995, the 12-screen venue quickly became one of the top-grossing theaters in the country. Last fall, Johnson and Sony announced an expansion plan that will see his theaters in a dozen more cities in the next 12 months.
The development also maintains a Johnson tradition of always finding a way to outshine his competitors. While a growing number of hoopsters like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal and Dennis Rodman are starring in films, three-time MVP Johnson will be in a position to hire them.
CASTINGS: Anthony Hopkins is poised for a reteam with Brad Pitt. After Hopkins played Pitt’s father in “Legends of the Fall,” Hopkins is now in serious talks to join Pitt in the Martin Brest-directed “Meet Joe Black” for Universal …
On the Warner Bros. adaptation of classic TV series “The Wild Wild West,” WB’s suddenly sweet on the “Men in Black” contingent. The studio’s offered the directing job to Barry Sonnenfeld, and there’s talk that Will Smith, who costarred in “Black” for Sonnenfeld with Tommy Lee Jones, will be offered one of the two leads in the pic, produced by Peters Entertainment. The series ran on CBS from 1965-70 with Robert Conrad starring as Secret Service agent James T. West and Ross Martin playing his sidekick, Artemus Gordon. Of course, both Smith and Sonnenfeld have no shortage of offers, so stay tuned.
SPEC ‘STRIKEBACK’: Though it’s easier to sell ice cubes to Eskimos than spec scripts to studios, Interscope has just made a mid-six-figure investment in the spec “Strikeback,” a gritty urban drama written by Mike Mahern, who co-wrote “Mobsters” with Nick Kazan and was a staff writer last season on the Fox series “New York Undercover.”
The project’s described as a contemporary urban Bonnie-and-Clyde drama, and was acquired by Interscope’s Erica Huggins, the exec responsible for “Gridlock’d,” which boasts a hot-selling soundtrack. In a replay of that arrangement, Interscope will produce with Def Pictures, with the hope of hatching a comparable soundtrack. The deal was the first spec sale of UTA agent Sherwin Das, who reps Mahern. The film will be produced by Preston Holmes and Huggins, with executive producers Ted Field, Scott Kroopf, Stan Lathan and Russell Simmons.
SKEET SHOOTING: As “Touch,” the film he stars in, opens Friday, Skeet Ulrich has closed a deal to join Matthew McConaughey as bank-robbing brothers in the Richard Linklater-directed “The Newton Boys” at Fox. Ulrich followed up his role as a healer in the Lumiere-produced “Touch” by co-starring with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in the James L. Brooks-directed “Old Friends” for TriStar. Ulrich will join McConaughey and “ER” star Julianna Margulies, with the film casting up quickly.
DISHINGS: A poster problem’s developed on the “Star Wars” reissue — they’re disappearing from bus shelters. The new posters were completely redesigned from the originals under the supervision of George Lucas and Fox by Barbara George and Steve Perani’s Global Doghouse, who designed it with newly named associate creative director Dela Erickson.