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D’Works eyes demon barber

The demon barber of Fleet Street is a close shave away from getting a bigscreen makeover from “American Beauty” director Sam Mendes.

After directing several Stephen Sondheim stage musicals, Mendes wants to direct “Sweeney Todd.” Early talks are under way to set the Sondheim musical with Mendes at DreamWorks, where Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald will produce.

Mendes had to work to get the assignment. That’s because Sondheim got the equivalent of a bad haircut when he entrusted his murderous barber tuner to Tim Burton several years ago.

Mendes and DreamWorks’ Parkes wooed Sondheim in Chicago when he was prepping his musical “Bounce.” But Mendes has been working out a take with the composer as he was preparing to direct the Broadway revival of Sondheim’s “Gypsy.”

Though films have been made of such Sondheim musicals “West Side Story,” “Gypsy” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Sondheim has been protective about “Sweeney Todd” since the Burton project fell apart at Warner Bros. Studio sources recall a short option deal that didn’t seem a problem because Burton planned to make it right after “Mars Attacks.” When that alien invasion spoof crash landed at the box office, Burton took the disappointment hard and Sondheim was left hanging.

GEORGARIS’ PAR PLAN: For all the development hell he must have observed working for a producer, Dean Georgaris has witnessed none since transitioning to screenwriter. Counting this week’s opening of the “Tomb Raider” sequel, Georgaris has originated four scripts, each being made. “Paycheck” is going with John Woo and Ben Affleck; “The Manchurian Candidate” is about to start with Jonathan Demme directing and Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep starring; and Georgaris’s first spec, “Tristan and Isolde” has a greenlight with James Franco and director Kevin Reynolds. He’s become a Paramount scripting machine, turning in the first draft of “Manchurian Candidate” and then immediately hammering out the “Tomb Raider” sequel in four months. Par’s rewarded him and partner Michael Aguilar with a production deal, and after the scribe adapts the Yann Martel novel “Life of Pi” for Fox 2000, he’ll return for a major Par project. He’s scripting his original idea “Sam and George” as a Mel Gibson-Richard Donner reteam. Gibson plays an innocent man freed by an ambulance chasing lawyer after a 25-year sentence. The rub: “The guy has become such a Don Quixote figure that he denies all the horrible things that have been done to him and can’t admit his life has been ruined,” Georgaris said. The lawyer looking of a windfall tries to change his mind.

LABUTE SHIFT: Given his volume of movies, plays and books, Neil LaBute needs a lot of reps. If you’re scoring at home, he’s added more. His longtime agent Brad Gross is turning his lit business into a management concern, so LaBute signed with William Morris, which will share him with theater agent Joyce Ketay and lawyers Michael Gendler and Kevin Kelly. LaBute and Pretty Pictures partner Gail Mutrux got a greenlight from Warner Bros. and Renaissance Films on “Vapor” with Sandra Bullock and Ralph Fiennes. LaBute’s producing “Kinsey,” about sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, which Bill Condon wrote and will direct. LaBute will also direct his Showtime pilot “Lilac Lane,” and he’ll open a new play, “The Distance From Here” in Gotham this fall. His last play “The Mercy Seat” moves to London. And Grove Press will publish his short fiction collection next year.

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