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Kassar & Vajna redux

Big-spending indie producers reteam in new venture

Carolco co-founders Andy Vajna and Mario Kassar have pushed their desks together once again — and “Terminator 3” is set to be one of their first projects.

The maverick producers, whose former company was one of the highest-flying indies in the late ’80s and early ’90s, have reunited in the Cinergi Pictures Entertainment offices in Santa Monica where they are actively acquiring and developing a string of projects. These include “The Accident,” a pitch by “An Officer and a Gentleman” scribe Douglas Day Stewart.

“Both of us have learned a great deal from our past experiences,” Vajna told Daily Variety. “But we feel that we made a great team and we wanted the opportunity to work together again.”

The duo may even re-create their former office environment, in which their desks famously faced each other across the same room.

Under their new banner, which has yet to be named, Vajna and Kassar have acquired producer Gale Anne Hurd’s half of the “Terminator” rights, leaving them free to produce a “T3” movie. Hurd was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

Miramax-owned Dimension Films is in talks with Vajna to finance and distribute “T3.”

Vajna is also in talks with Dimension to take producing chores on the genre label’s untitled sequel to “Rambo.”

Last October, at a bankruptcy auction of the various properties of Carolco Pictures, Vajna paid $8 million for half the sequel, prequel, remake and TV series rights to “Terminator,” outbidding Dimension.

However, Dimension snatched the rights to the Carolco properties “Total Recall” and “Rambo.”

The only potential “Terminator” roadblock is that writer/director James Cameron has said he has no interest in doing another “Terminator” film, and star Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he would only do another one if Cameron directs.

Rae Sanchini, prexy of Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment, told Daily Variety Thursday that the helmer’s position on the matter has not changed.

Former Carolco product

Another former Carolco script acquired by Vajna and Kassar is the futuristic actioner “Isobar,” which was once set up to star Sylvester Stallone under Roland Emmerich’s helm.

“We are attempting to acquire as many old Carolco projects as possible,” said Vajna, who added that his and Kassar’s new company intends to make “one or two tentpole pictures” each year.

Other priority projects are an untitled sequel to “Basic Instinct,” which is already in development at United Artists; a feature version of the 1960s TV series “I Spy,” which has attracted interest from Will Smith; the Joe Eszterhas-scripted thriller “Trapped”; the thriller “Serpent’s Tooth,” written by Michael Cimino; and the action-adventure “Smoke and Mirrors.”

Additionally, Vajna and Kassar have bought their first pitch — paying $500,000 against $1 million for “The Accident” from scribe Day Stewart. William Morris Agency’s Alan Gasmer and David Lubliner brokered the deal for Stewart.

The pitch is a drama about a man and woman who fall in love despite the fact that one’s child was murdered by the other’s.

Free-wheeling

During their Carolco days, Vajna and Kassar created what many regarded as a free-spending haven for filmmakers and talent because of their laissez-faire management style.

After several different investors had bailed out, Carolco formally filed for bankruptcy in November 1995. Vajna, who quit Carolco in 1989, liquidated his Cinergi outfit one year ago.

Vajna emphasized there would be no return for the new entity to the lavish glory days of the major indie, when foreign distribs were asked to pony up huge advances for studio-level fare.

“Ten years ago, the majors weren’t that excited about foreign distribution,” he said. “Now they are the best at it.”

Vajna said he and Kassar would either strike separate deals for each project, or pact with one studio worldwide, or one studio for domestic and another for foreign.

Talks to that effect have been held with Dimension, MGM, Universal and Warner Bros. However, no formal deals have been struck on any projects.

The pair plan to finance their own overhead and development until they set up a project at a studio. “We’re operating on a shoestring at the moment,” said Vajna — a concept that has never been associated with either of them before.

Industry observers speculated that due to their big-spending past — during which they financed and distributed some of the most successful and some of the most disastrous pictures ever made — Vajna and Kassar might find it difficult to operate within the confines of today’s cost-conscious studio system.

Foreign concern

“We may sell foreign ourselves, depending on the project,” conceded Vajna. Another source close to the pair said: “In time they will probably set up their own sophisticated source of (outside) financing.”

Kassar’s MK Prods. banner was previously set up at Paramount Pictures, where the flamboyant showman behind “Rambo” and “Total Recall” failed to get a single film into production in more than two years.

“There is a tremendous amount of excitement over what we are doing, but also a bit of caution,” said Vajna. “Some people think: ‘Boy, these guys make expensive movies.’ But we have a much better understanding of the business than before.”

Other new Vajna/Kassar projects are an English-language remake of the Vajna-produced Hungarian farce “Out of Order,” which has become one of the most successful Hungarian pics ever, with more than half a million admissions.

U.K. playwright Ray Cooney, who wrote the play on which the Hungarian movie was based, is writing a new script, and Vajna said Arnon Milchan’s New Regency Prods. is a possible backer.

Vajna holds the rights to about 20 other projects he acquired from the ashes of Cinergi, which filed for bankruptcy last year.

Moreover, Kassar is expected to bring a number of projects in turn-around from Paramount to the new venture, including the period war drama “Icarus.”

Vajna and Kassar were repped in their various acquisitions and deals by attorney Allen Shapiro.

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