D’Works remakes deals for two remakes

Jersey, Reeves, 3 Arts out of 'Billy'; 'Hawaii' in bid war

Two high-profile remake deals — for “Billy Jack” and “Hawaii Five-O” — are themselves being remade.

Intermedia has acquired rights to remake “Billy Jack” — a surprising development given that, just weeks ago, a deal seemed as good as closed for the film to be made at DreamWorks with Keanu Reeves attached to play the title role, and Jersey Films and 3 Arts producing along with rights holder Tom Laughlin, his wife Delores Taylor and Frank Laughlin.

Since DreamWorks had a nearly done deal in place with Laughlin worth $400,000 against $1.5 million that factored in the participation of Jersey, Reeves and 3 Arts, that contract will have to be settled, meaning the studio might still end up Intermedia’s domestic partner.

But Jersey, Reeves and 3 Arts are no longer involved.

DreamWorks also has changed from being exclusive negotiator to one of several bidders in the remake of “Hawaii Five-O” after being unwilling to meet a deal point sought by producer and rights controller George Litto that would have given him and his heirs in-perpetuity say-so over “Five-O” in the same way that the family of producer Cubby Broccoli controls the James Bond franchise.

DreamWorks was ready to pay millions for rights and a script by Roger Towne, but wouldn’t agree to the terms set by Litto, who repped series creator Leonard Freeman and then his estate when he died in 1973.

DreamWorks is still in the bidding, but CAA, which just remade the “Billy Jack” deal, has begun re-shopping the “Hawaii Five-O” package to other studios in hopes of meeting Litto’s terms, sources said.

Devil’s in the details

The “Billy Jack” deal and Intermedia’s emergence as the locomotive behind the project is a case where a deal that seemed doable at the bargaining table suddenly snags when business affairs becomes involved.

One complexity was the high volume of producers and not enough points and fees available to make them all happy. In fact, Laughlin, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in the original film, attributed the changed elements to “the lawyers and the nitty grittying that goes into making a deal.”

Laughlin turned “Billy Jack” into one of the most profitable independent films of all time. With a large and fervent fan base still in tow, Laughlin would hardly be a pushover in a remake deal. While he acknowledged he’s gained a reputation as a tough dealmaker, Laughlin denied that was why this remake deal got remade.

“We got a deal done and contracts signed in four days with Intermedia,” Laughlin said. “And we might very well end up back at DreamWorks and we might go back to Keanu. But we’ve found our foreign partner; this feels like the right mix, and by next week we’ll be going full bore to interview screenwriters.”

Deconstructing an icon

Intermedia production president Basil Iwanyk wouldn’t comment on the deal his company is supplanting, or who might portray the quiet loner with fast hands and feet who took on the establishment in “Billy Jack” and sequels “Billy Jack Goes to Washington” and “The Trial of Billy Jack.” Instead, Iwanyk is concentrating on distilling what made the original film such an unlikely hit and its lead character something of a cultural icon.

“Right now we want to brand this as an Intermedia movie, and we are most comfortable getting a script and a director before going to studios,” Iwanyk said.

“The reason we feel ‘Billy Jack’ will travel well is that he’s such a classic archetype for a movie hero. You have this disenfranchised group with nobody to speak for them, and suddenly they have a voice and a protector when this mysterious guy rides into town. It’s a classic formula that goes back to ‘Seven Samurai.’ Our challenge is to find a modern-day equivalent of a nemesis for Billy Jack to defuse and conquer, one that made audiences root so hard for him.”