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Earhart pic sets flight; new tricks for old ideas

NEW YORK — Amelia Earhart has never been found, but a Fine Line film about the aviatrix has landed on the fast track now that Fred Schepisi has signed to rewrite and direct “I Was Amelia Earhart.”

Based on the 1996 novel by Jane Mendelsohn, the film’s an epic that starts with a fact-based tale of Earhart’s childhood dreams of becoming a hero, to her achievements in becoming the first woman to cross the Atlantic solo. It then veers into a fictional flight pattern with an invented romance that blooms after Earhart and her co-pilot disappeared in an ill-fated attempt to fly around the world. Harry and Mary Jane Ufland are producing.

The world-famous Earhart was a carefree daredevil in the cockpit. Trapped in a difficult marriage, she encountered far more turbulence on the ground. In Mendelsohn’s version of what occurred after her last takeoff, Earhart lands on a deserted island with her alcoholic co-pilot, falls in love and lives happily ever after. Schepisi, whose credits include “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Roxanne” and “Plenty,” said Mendelsohn’s romantic creation hooked him.

“She has this haunting line about the time called the in-between, that moment between life and death when everything suddenly becomes clear and all your faculties are at their most heightened, when anything is possible,” Schepisi said. “This is a wonderful story about a woman who had fame but was looking for something all her life. In that in-between time, she let go of the pressures of the world and found herself.”

With Schepisi scribbling, Fine Line wants to get the pic off the tarmac early next year, though Schepisi’s also aligned with the Helen Hunt starrer “She’s Funny That Way” for Trilogy.

“We have this amazing story and now have someone who can bring richness to it and craft a vehicle that’s worthy of a major actress,” said Fine Line prexy Mark Ordesky, who’s shepherding the pic with senior veeps Rachael Horovitz and Eileen Maisel.

“Earhart” landed at Fine Line after radio titan Don Imus raved about the novel. Imus’ lawyer and loyal listener is New Line chief operating officer Michael Lynne, and the company pounced quickly. Schepisi was repped by ICM’s Jeff Shumway and attorney Barry Tyerman.

STILL WILD ABOUT ‘HARRY’: In what has far greater implications than a simple material sale, screenwriter David Andrus has sold his script “Harry” to producer David Kirkpatrick and Original Voices for $750,000 against $1 million. The sale comes 16 years after “Harry” was sold originally to Paramount, and is the result of a little known Writers Guild rule that allows scribes to reclaim their dormant scripts without paying the overhead, interest and development costs which make such deals impossible.

“Harry” is a romantic comedy about a laptop computer, given the ability by its creator to feel, that feels the need to get that creator hooked up in a romance. It sold as a spec 16 years ago in a heated bidding battle between Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen long before the pair became partners at DreamWorks. Katzenberg won, and set the pic at Paramount for $150,000, which at the time was considered a lot of money. The computer project crashed when Michael Eisner and Katzenberg left Par to run Disney.

While this happens every year to dozens of scripts which collect interest costs and dust, Andrus and the WGA found a loophole that the scribe feels his peers should know about. Under WGA rules, original scripts purchased outright can be repurchased by their authors for the same price, with no overhead or interest costs, if studios keep them inactive for five consecutive years.

The window to make such a buyback is two years, and Andrus pounced. He repaid Paramount the $150,000 plus another $100,000 he got for rewrites. Andrus polished the prose to reflect changes in computer technology, and brought it to Kirkpatrick, who in 1983 was a young Par executive who championed the project.

Kirkpatrick, whose Original Voices has a joint venture arrangement with German-based Magic Worx,tripled Andrus’ investment in what would have remained a dormant project, with more to come if the pic gets made.

“A lot of writers don’t know they can do this and if I tried to get another studio or producer to buy the script, it’d cost $1.5 million with all the interest and overhead costs,” Andrus said. “I thought $250,000 was a risk, but it’s in the ballpark of what people pay for scripts and I felt I had a strong shot to set it up where it might get made. I’m stunned that it happened this way, but I’ll wait ’til they roll film before I start jumping around.”

Kirkpatrick, who’s shooting “The Whole Shebang” with Bridget Fonda and Stanley Tucci, will produce “Harry” with joint venture partner Peter Kaufmann. Josh Wattles will exec produce. Andrus was repped in his unusual resale deal by attorney Wayne Alexander.

HOPELESS ROMANTIC: Myles Berkowitz, who made his directing debut with the first-person docu about his love life in Slamdance winner and Fox Searchlight release “20 Dates,” is continuing on the romance route. Berkowitz, who met his fiancee making that picture, hopes to next direct “But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?,” a pitch that combines romance with the suddenly hot genre of time travel.

His pitch has been optioned by time travel vets Bo Zenga, who set up “Time Jumpers” at DreamWorks, and Bob Kosberg, who set up “12 Monkeys” at Universal. The producers will try to wed the pic to a studio the week after Thanksgiving. Berkowitz plans to write and direct his pitch about a successful career man who blows a romance and goes back in time to fix things, screwing up his career in the process. So he goes back yet again to get it right.

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