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Kahuna cakewalk

Lions Gate pays $1.5 million for Spacey pic

NEW YORK — In one of the biggest deals in the company’s short history, Lions Gate Films has paid an estimated $1.5 million to acquire the North American rights to the Kevin Spacey starrer “The Big Kahuna.” In addition to the upfront price, Lions Gate has committed to a wide spring 2000 release in 40 top markets.

Lions Gate Releasing prexys Tom Ortenberg and Mark Urman saw the John Swanbeck-helmed pic a week ago at the Toronto film fest, and the two immediately became passionate about it. “Kahuna” also stars Danny DeVito and Peter Facinelli.

While Lions Gate’s offer was not the largest of three on the table, Spacey, who produced the pic along with Elie Samaha and Andrew Stevens, was impressed by the company’s track record and commitment to the film’s release. The deal was inked over the weekend.

“With ‘Gods and Monsters’ and ‘Affliction,’ Lions Gate has proved themselves with unique films, films that in many ways were marketing challenges,” Spacey told Daily Variety. “They seem to mount campaigns that were not only able to get those films attention from mainstream audiences, but also a great number of Academy award nominations.”

Spacey added, “Being that this film was my baby, I was careful to hand it over to the right hands.”

Indeed, “Kahuna” is the maiden film for Spacey’s Trigger Street Prods. The actor shot the just-under $2 million film over 16 days in February, immediately after wrapping “American Beauty.” Pic was shot from 5-11:30 p.m. while Spacey was rehearsing for “The Iceman Cometh” in the morning.

“The Big Kahuna” was written by engineer turned playwright Roger Rueff, adapting his own play “Hospitality Suite.” The film concerns the uncommon bond among three industrial lubricant salesmen who are at a Wichita, Kan., convention trying to land the biggest account of their lives.

The film is the helming debut for Swanbeck, whom Spacey met in 1992 when understudying for “Hurly Burly” on Broadway while Swanbeck was an assistant to Mike Nichols. It was Swanbeck who brought “Hospitality Suite” to Spacey’s attention.

In addition to the domestic sale, the film has been a hot property overseas with German and some European territories sold during the Toronto fest.

Spacey is repped by the William Morris Agency’s John Fogelman. He is managed by Joanne Horowitz and lawyered by Doug Stone of L.A.-based Stone Meyers & Genow.

WMA Independents’ Cassian Elwes and Rena Ronson negotiated the sale with Lion Gates’ Ortenberg and Urman.