Torn between cutting costs and keeping prestigious producer shingles hanging on its lot, Walt Disney Pictures is looking at the bottom line.
With chairman Peter Schneider’s decision not to exercise its renewal option on the studio’s deal with Sonnenfeld/Josephson Worldwide Entertainment when it expires in late July, the ball is now in the duo’s court, and the clock is ticking.
The last time Disney offered an out to a major producer’s outfit, Barry Mendel, producer of “The Sixth Sense,” took the hint and took a hike to Universal.
Sonnenfeld/Josephson, headed by director-producer Barry Sonnenfeld and producer Barry Josephson, now has about 60 days to exercise its two-year option, or ankle the lot. Currently, the duo still plans to produce at least two films for the Mouse, and the director-producer team is obligated to deliver one more Sonnenfeld-directed feature.
If they pick up their option, they’d be committed to yet another Sonnenfeld-directed title. Sources close to the duo say that they are currently negotiating with several studios for a new home.
Sonnenfeld/Josephson is now in preproduction on “Big Trouble,” which will be produced with Tom Jacobson (“Mission To Mars”). Based on the novel by Dave Barry, the comedy is greenlit and begins production in Miami this summer.
Following “Trouble,” Sonnenfeld/Josephson is slated to produce the romantic comedy “Enchanted” at Disney. Written by Bill Kelly, the film will be directed by Rob Marshall and produced by Sonnenfeld, Josephson, Craig Zaden and Neal Meron. The film is targeted for a late 2000 or early 2001 start.
The long haul
Sources indicate that Sonnenfeld and Josephson are also looking at long-in-development projects “Chippendales” and an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s “White Noise” with an eye toward the fast track at Disney.
Under their deal, Sonnenfeld and Josephson served as executive producers on one picture for Disney, “The Crew.” Helmed by Michael Dinner and penned by Barry Fanaro, the $25 million film stars Burt Reynolds and Richard Dreyfuss. The film is slated for a fall release through Touchstone.
Sonnenfeld and Josephson signed a three-year deal with Disney in 1997 in anticipation of their mega-hit “Men In Black,” the film that first paired director Sonnenfeld with Josephson, then-Columbia Pictures production prexy.
Since making the Disney deal, however, Sonnenfeld has directed just one picture, Warner Bros.’ “Wild Wild West.” The $125 million-budgeted comedy starring Will Smith and Kevin Kline grossed about $220 million worldwide.
In addition to its offices on the Disney lot in Burbank, Sonnenfeld/Josephson also has an office in New York.