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Pairing for Zemeckis

Fox, DW near to sharing next two projects

Twentieth Century Fox and DreamWorks are ironing out a deal in which the studios would split distribution rights for director Robert Zemeckis’ next two films, one starring Tom Hanks and the other starring Harrison Ford.

While neither would comment on the deal, sources at both studios confirmed the talks and the potential star-studded split-rights scenario.

Under the pact, Fox will handle the domestic release of the Hanks vehicle “The Castaway,” and DreamWorks will handle its foreign distribution. Then, in a reversal of that arrangement, DreamWorks will handle domestic and Fox will take foreign on the Ford starrer “What Lies Beneath.”

Both films are to be helmed by Robert Zemeckis, and produced by Image Movers, Zemeckis’ production partnership with Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey. Hanks may also serve as a producer on “Castaway,” although that is not clear at this time.

The studios will evenly split production costs as well as the overall, worldwide box office pot for both films.

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Lines of development

The domestic distribution was decided along development lines: Fox has developed “The Castaway,” a film scripted by William Broyles (“Apollo 13”), for several years under a deal the studio once had with Hanks; and the Clark Gregg-scripted “What Lies Beneath” was developed by DreamWorks from an idea by company co-founder Steven Spielberg.

Zemeckis will be doing more than splitting studios, as previously reported, he also will be dividing production time between the two films.

Beginning in early 1999, Zemeckis will shoot Hanks in “Castaway” (a contemporary tale of a man stranded on a deserted island and his efforts to stay alive) until midspring, when production will be halted so Hanks can work on losing pounds to replicate the effects of being stranded. Hanks also is expected to lense Warner Bros.’ “Dino” during the break.

During the hiatus, Zemeckis will move over to direct Ford in “What Lies Beneath,” the supernatural drama, which is slated to start production in September. Once Hanks loses the weight, and Zemeckis completes “What Lies Beneath,” the duo will return to complete “Castaway.”

Commonplace and reticence

The pending deal is now a common arrangement for many studios, including DreamWorks, which split rights with Paramount on “Saving Private Ryan” and “Deep Impact,” two recent box office successes.

But for Fox, it is not as common. The studio inked a split-rights deal with Paramount on the award-winning “Braveheart” a few years ago, an arrangement that gave Par all domestic box office revenues while Fox took all foreign revenues; but following the animosity that arose between Fox and Par during the production of “Titanic,” Fox seemed to have shied away from such deals.

In the case of “Titanic,” Fox and Paramount split the worldwide box office revenue, although Fox funded the majority of the $200 million-plus budget and Par’s outlay was capped at $65 million.

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