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HELMER’S 3RD AT BAT

Schumacher signals he's up for 'Batman 5'

NEW YORK — Though he didn’t commit to direct his second “Batman” sequel until after seeing the box office pile up for “Batman Forever,” Joel Schumacher has agreed to prepare for his third sequel just two weeks after wrapping “Batman and Robin.” Schumacher confirmed screenwriter Mark Protosevich has been hired to script the fifth installment in the franchise.

“A few months ago, there were 12 movies being shot on the Warner Bros. lot, and Bob Daly and Terry Semel asked to see a sample reel of each film,” Schumacher said. “Each director put together dailies from the film. After Bob and Terry saw ours, they ordered another script for ‘Batman.’

“There’s a double purpose, to get ahead of the game, but also to budget it early on,” he said. “We had a lot of luck this time because we started so early. We started a week before I shot ‘A Time To Kill,’ and we had a lot of preparation time, which is the key to these movies.

“One reason movies run amok, is a director comes in at the last moment, or a slot opens for a star, and boom, you’re shooting. That backfires. The more time we have, the more cost-effective it can be.”

One for the record books

Cost containment has never been the most important consideration when it comes to WB’s most lucrative film franchise, and already there’s rampant talk that Schumacher’s paycheck for the fifth Caped Crusader installment could be a record-setter, with predictions he’ll top the $10 million WB paid Richard Donner on “Assassins.”

Schumacher said he didn’t know what he’d be making because he hadn’t formalized a deal, but he wouldn’t say, anyway. “I’m overpaid, overstimulated, overhyped and overage, but I have the distinction of being the only person in our business who’ll admit it,” he joked.

Actually, WB brass scored a coup by bringing back the director widely credited with reviving the series when he followed Tim Burton to direct “Batman Forever.” Schumacher said his continued involvement is partly due to an allegiance he has to cast members George Clooney and Chris O’Donnell.

“This is the most fun job in the world, you just have no idea how much fun it is doing a Batman movie,” Schumacher said. “There’s no reality police, you’re just making up this comic book with villains who make it fun. But also, I asked these actors to be in these movies, and I wouldn’t just say thanks a lot, I’m moving on. That would be unethical and not attractive.”

Another factor making his decision easy is that Schumacher has the opportunity to squeeze in another film before he even thinks about Gotham City again. He’s currently waiting on final drafts of several scripts before deciding which next to direct.

Those include the adaptation of what will be his third John Grisham book, “Runaway Jury,” “Popcorn,” the David Geffen-produced screen version of the musical “Dreamgirls” and a top-secret project being scripted by Hillary Henkin for Matthew McConaughey to star in. Though he once again was asked to consider directing the screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” that one’s not in contention.

Schumacher said he’ll make a final decision about directing the fifth “Batman” after getting a draft from Protosevich, who wrote the WB script “I Am Legend.” The scribe was hired after Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman — who wrote the last two “Batman” films as well as “A Time to Kill” and “The Client” — decided to part ways on the next Batpic.

The director also wouldn’t divulge the villain taking part in the next film, though sources said there are four heavies in contention: Egghead, Mad Hatter, King Tut and Scarecrow.

While there’s no firm timetable on the next film, WB clearly is allowing ample prep time so it can have the film ready to be its entry in the summer blockbuster sweepstakes for 1999. Schumacher said he’s already nervous about the competition “Batman and Robin” will face this summer against sequels to “Jurassic Park” and “Speed,” as well as Jim Cameron’s “Titanic.”

He might as well get nervous about the competition he’ll face in summer 1999, as he very well could be going against “Terminator 3” and George Lucas’ first “Star Wars” prequel.

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