‘Snicket’ in thicket

Producer Scott Rudin resigned from Paramount’s adaptation of “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” The exit was abrupt and caused by the studio’s bracing stance on budget.

Rudin’s ankling is more than just an unfortunate event for Par’s answer to “Harry Potter.” It’s another instance of studios getting tough, even with players of Rudin’s stature. Studio chiefs have grown ferocious in cutting gross payouts and budgets on big ticket films. It’s the stance that led Ron Howard and Russell Crowe to exit Disney’s “The Alamo.”

Director Barry Sonnenfeld and star Jim Carrey remain, but the director acknowledges that Par’s tough budget stance changed the shoot from Gotham to Wilmington, N.C., and put a start date in limbo on a pic whose cost is a shade under $100 million.

“The studio says that if we don’t lose $5 million, they will shut this movie down,” said Sonnenfeld. “I’m saying if we can’t find the money, we should stop and rewrite the script to support the budget they want to make the movie for. I’ve just built a luge run at my house in Telluride, so this winter I’ll either be making a movie with Jim Carrey from my favorite children’s book series, or vacationing with my family. Either way is fine with me.”

It wasn’t fine with Rudin, who produced Par’s Oscar hopeful “The Hours.” His exit was attributed to a busy schedule (he’s shooting “School of Rock” and prepping “The Manchurian Candidate” and “The Stepford Wives”). But after assembling a winning “Snicket” ticket with Nickelodeon’s Albie Hecht and Julia Pistor, Rudin would not have left without provocation.

“Part of the problem is that there was not enough communication earlier about a budget number we have now been given in no uncertain terms,” Sonnenfeld said. “I know Scott was frustrated by Paramount and it’s a great loss to me not to have Scott on the set to frustrate every day. But he does have a full plate with other movies, and he’s got an Oscar speech to write. The last thing he needed was to spend time locating the better restaurants in Wilmington.” Sonnenfeld said moving from Gotham shaved $9 million from the film’s budget. That wasn’t enough.

Sonnenfeld said mobilizing “Snicket” was tougher than “Men in Black 2,” despite that film’s well-publicized gross player burden.

“Amy Pascal has told me that despite the gross participants, Sony will make over $100 million on the film,” he said. “I’ve been told that the net of ‘MIB2’ from DVD and VHS will cover the entire negative cost of that film. This is what I wish Paramount would understand. When you make a kid movie and do it right, you sell endless amounts of DVDs and videos. I like both Sherry Lansing and Jon Dolgen, but they only look at the downside of a potential investment, not the upside. Maybe that’s why they have been successful, but it doesn’t make for joy.”

DISHINGS: Months of DreamWorks denials haven’t stopped rumors that Steven Spielberg is mulling a reteam with Tom Hanks on the drama “Terminal” late next year … John Grisham is no longer playing hard to get with the movie crowd. Grisham stopped movie shopping his galleys several years ago — he’d gotten slammed in studio coverage and later decided to stop selling movie rights altogether. That’s all changed, and Grisham rep David Gernert will give a selective early peak in January to “King of Torts,” Grisham’s new book about a young public defender in D.C. who becomes a media star off a high profile case. Gernert said Grisham is feeling good about the movie biz again, helped by the progress of “The Runaway Jury” and “A Painted House,” which is being made by Hallmark.

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