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Payne studying ‘Picture’; second trip to ‘Town

Alexander Payne will co-write and direct for Independent Pictures an untitled film inspired by Oscar Wilde’s novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

Pic would be a contemporary version set in the movie business in Hollywood, with a few new twists to the tale of a man who seems not to age, unless one looks at a picture of him stashed in the attic. The novel was turned into a film in 1945.

Payne, who this weekend shared with Jim Taylor a Writers Guild of America Award for “Election,” will script the next pic with Nate Goodman, a former UCLA classmate who has been a camera operator on such films as “Godzilla.” The deal was made by Independent Pictures chairman Cary Woods, who will finance the film and distribute through an output deal with either New Line or Fine Line.

It is the second project for Payne with Woods, who produced “Citizen Ruth.” And it is also the second that came from Payne with a recommendation for a classmate. The first was Niels Mueller, when Payne recommended his script “The Assassination of Richard Nixon.” Woods bought that pic, scripted by Mueller and Kevin Kennedy, and Mueller will direct Sean Penn in the lead role, with Payne exec producing.

“I’m pleased Alexander has enough confidence in us to bring in two talented film school friends with projects that have the tone and sensibility Alexander has shown,” Woods said. He hopes Payne will make it this film after he does his next pic. That slot will either be “Side Ways,” Payne’s adaptation of the Rex Pickett novel for Artisan, or the adaptation of “About Schmidt” at Columbia, which could be next if Jack Nicholson signs on to star. Independent’s Gina Mingacci will shepherd the “Dorian Gray” project, with David Hoberman exec producing. Payne’s repped by Endeavor, Goodman’s agented by Candace Lake.

NO SHOWEST SEQUEL: The New Line pic “Town & Country” has taken so long to finish that the pic’s stars were invited to be part of New Line’s product luncheon at ShoWest — for the second year in a row. It doesn’t look, however, like there will be a pic podium presence this time. Despite an ensemble featuring Warren Beatty, Garry Shandling, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Andie Macdowell and Nastassja Kinski, the pic was expected last year and is now likely for a fall release, contingent upon finding a better ending that still has to be shot. While there has been speculation of why the pic fell so far behind, Dish hears one factor was rushing into production before the script was ready because Keaton had a contractual stop date to direct “Hanging Up.”

SALVA-GING A CAREER: Francis Coppola’s biggest hit, “The Godfather,” is about loyalty, something the filmmaker displays himself. Lost in the announcement of a multipic pact at United Artists is the fact that the first pic, “Jeepers Creepers,” is written and to be directed by Victor Salva. He’s the former Coppola protege who seemed headed for a quick rise in the business with the Disney pic “Powder,” until a revelation in Dish that he’d once served time for molesting the underage male star of one of his early films. Coppola has given him the chance for his first studio film since that story became a highly public affair. That happened because the youth went public, because it was a Disney film and because the studio and people involved with the pic tried to keep it secret. Roman Polanski, convicted of a similar misdeed for which he fled the U.S., makes films outside the country without stigma. Why shouldn’t Salva, who served his debt to society, have the same opportunity?

GATHER” FOR SEVEN ARTS: Seven Arts Pictures has paid six figures for the Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts script “We Gather Together,” a Turkey day fable about a group of childhood friends who gather together for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, overeating is hardly their most pressing concern, as it becomes clear their host plans to kill them by the end of the evening. Seven Arts partner Neil Canton and development veep Brette Krinick, will produce, hoping to start filming this fall for release the following Thanksgiving. The scribes just completed their second season as executive story editors on “Beverly Hills, 90210” and are currently rewriting “Valentine” at Warner Bros. Canton and Krinick are teaming with Pat Dollard to produce “Nothing More Than Murder,” with Jason Patric starring in the adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel, as well as Bob Gale’s script “Interstate 60, Persona Non Grata” to be directed by Walter Hill and “Kill Van Kull,” a co-production with Sonnenfeld Josephson. The scribes are repped by Justin Silvera and Chris von Goetz of Broder Kurland Webb Uffner and attorney Gretchen Bruggeman.

DISHINGS: This week, Warner Bros. meets prospective Harry Potter directors. It’s unclear how many helmers will pitch their vision of the J.K. Rowling novel. Wolfgang Petersen has passed on taking part because WB’s summer 2001 timetable doesn’t mesh with the “Perfect Storm” helmer’s schedule. Also looking unlikely is Rob Reiner, who is rumored to be bowing out for political reasons. But in fact, Castle Rock said he took himself out of the running when he realized the picture would have to shoot in London. While Reiner’s name has been mentioned all along, the guy making the decisions is his former Castle Rock partner Alan Horn. It presents a no-win situation for a director, who, aside from recent misfires, helmed enduring youth tales in “The Princess Bride” and “Stand By Me” … Last week’s item about “Groove” team Gregory Harrison and Danielle Renfrew signing with WMA omitted their attorney. He’s Alexander Kohner, grandson of Paul Kohner, a lawyer at Manatt, Phelps.

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