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Ex-Journo turns the page as screenwriter

JOURNO SCHIFFS GEARS: Stephen Schiff left behind the deadline pressures he felt as a journalist and is now experiencing the stress of several high profile screenwriting jobs. The former New Yorker and Vanity Fair writer has turned out a high volume of copy since he adapted “Lolita” on a lark and got a fateful call from Adrian Lyne to direct it.

Schiff just made a deal to adapt the Patricia Cornwell novel “Cruel and Unusual” for director Joel Schumacher at Columbia, the latest in an endless succession of high profile jobs and crushing deadlines.

“The form isn’t that jarring because in profiles you create narrative and characters and the notes you receive on scripts is like being edited,” he said. “The biggest surprise is that I had far more down time between articles and reviews as a journalist.”

Most recently, Schiff’s draft of “The Emperor of Ocean Park” landed director Carl Franklin. He also scripted “Chippendales” and an adaptation of Don De Lillo’s “White Noise” for director Barry Sonnenfeld, adapted “Decoy” for Arnold Kopelson, and wrote a drama about a record exec with mob ties for Quincy Jones and Tribeca’s Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro. Schiff spent the past week at George Clooney’s Italian villa, huddling on the period gridiron pic “Leatherheads,” which Clooney will star in and direct.

“It’s a classic screwball romantic comedy set at the birth of the National Football League in 1925,” Schiff said. “There’s this great romantic triangle, with George this raffish aging pro football hero who falls in love with the girlfriend of a college great named the Blond Bullet. The strange thing is I’m rewriting a script by Steven Soderbergh, who’s extremely talented. I’d be looking at it, saying, wow, this is good. What could they possibly want me to change?”

RUSSO’S RUN: Add producer Aaron Russo to the growing list of wannabe California governors. The producer of pics “Trading Places” and “The Rose” has readied the $3,500 and 65 signatures necessary to become a candidate in the recall race. He’ll likely declare by Saturday’s deadline. Why take him more seriously than Gary Coleman or Gallagher? “First of all, I ran a formidable race for governor of Nevada and got 25% of the vote among four candidates to finish second in the Republican primary,” he said. “I never brought a movie in over budget, I’ve gotten six Oscar nominations and won an Emmy, a Tony and a Grammy. And I am in touch with the feeling of people in the state of California.” And, as infomercial fanatics might remember, “Aaron Russo’s Mad As Hell.” That was the title of the TV-sold tape in which the colorful Russo harangued the intrusiveness of federal government and IRS. Those issues still chafe. “Thanks to the Patriot Act, the federal government can come into our houses, tap our phones, access computer files, all under the guise of security,” he said. “This is not what America is about. We do not live in a totalitarian society. California should be a leader in changing what is happening in Washington and if I was governor, I would use that power to stop this intrusion.” Russo would have run again for Nevada governor in 2002, but contracted bladder cancer. “I beat the shit out of a very aggressive tumor with alternative medicine. It saved my prostate and bladder, which doctors wanted to cut out,” he said. Russo said the only thing that could derail his run is the imminent launch of a film production venture.

CHAN CLAN CHASES COIN: Studios are paying big bucks for remakes rights to Asian horror films. Will they want to be involved in the first go-round? Peter Chan, the award-winning Hong Kong helmer who most recently produced “The Eye,” will haunt studios next week with WMA and Andre Morgan, hoping to scare up a preemptive deal for his next horror outing, “Come to Me.” He plans to direct it as a Hong Kong pic unless a studio makes an offer for a straight-to-Hollywood effort. “Instead of waiting until the movie has been made, studios can join us on the ground floor,” Morgan said. “Peter is a major director in Asia who speaks fluent English. We’ll tell studios they can be involved now or buy it later as a remake and hope it doesn’t become another hot idea that languishes in development.”

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