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Helmers ganging up on Hughes

Scorsese, Nolan taking on dueling biopics

Martin Scorsese intends to get a jump on the Howard Hughes biopic race and is poised to direct his “Gangs of New York” star Leonardo DiCaprio in the project.

Production on the pic, which is on the hunt for financing, would start in the fall. “Gladiator” co-scribe John Logan has written the script, while Michael Mann and partner Sandy Climan will produce in their first significant project from their reconsituted Forward Pass shingle.

“Gangs,” meanwhile, still is awaiting a release.

The Scorsese-helmed Hughes pic faces direct competition from “Memento” director Christopher Nolan’s Hughes project, to star Jim Carrey, that recently took root at Castle Rock. Company bought rights to the Richard Hack book “Hughes: The Private Diaries, Memos and Letters,” published by New Millennium.

While Nolan is ringing up the accolades for “Memento,” he’s just starting on the Hughes adaptation; Logan, meanwhile, has completed a script strong enough to hook Scorsese.

While many expected the Scorsese-DiCaprio tandem to figure prominently in a biopic of Alexander the Great, Scorsese apparently sparked to both the Hughes script and the chance to again direct DiCaprio. Mann and DiCaprio hatched the project together and have worked on shaping it for several years; they originally set it up at New Line with production prexy Michael De Luca. The film was put in turnaround after De Luca departed and is now controlled by Mann’s Forward Pass and DiCaprio.

Early mogul years

They are expected to move quickly to secure financing and a start date for a film focusing on the formative Hughes years, when he was a dashing aviator and movie mogul. It ends in the early 1950s, long before Hughes became a reclusive germophobe. It may be best showcase of a shined-up DiCaprio since “Titanic.”

While Scorsese now is poised to direct back-to-back DiCaprio vehicles, Mann, too, has long tried to direct the star. The first attempt was a James Dean biopic that Mann put aside when he teamed Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in “Heat.” The director and star are teamed on “The Inside Man,” another fact-based story that Mann and producer Harry Ufland set up at Disney several years ago, with a script by Mann. By all accounts, Mann intended to direct DiCaprio in the Hughes film, but likely wanted a breather from the bio genre after tackling “The Insider” and “Ali” back to back.

Mann apparently agreed to step aside as director because the Carrey-Nolan project looked ready to go, and he didn’t want to hold up the DiCaprio pic; when their first choice, Scorsese, said yes, his decision was made easier.

Scorsese’s commitment makes the Hughes pic the first major project from their company since Mann joined forces with Climan, his former agent at CAA.

The dealmaking about to commence may hold its own intrigue, given that CAA reps Mann and Logan, while AMG reps both Scorsese and DiCaprio.

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