A stage of ‘Dunces’

Project gets high-profile reading at film fest

NANTUCKET, Mass. — Taking a test drive in front of an audience of 800 people at the Nantucket Film Festival, director David Gordon Green and a knockout lineup of actors staged a reading Saturday of “A Confederacy of Dunces,” bringing the long-in-the-works project one notch closer to realization.

While fests regularly serve to promote finished films, shop new projects or even secure completion funds for pics in production, rarely are they used to expose a film while it’s still on paper. But Green and co-writer-producer Scott Kramer made Nantucket a part of the advanced development.

“Usually when I’m making something, nine people show up, so this is substantially harder,” Green told the crowd before the event. “I’ve had the privilege of being involved in developing this project for the past year and getting it to the point where we’re ready to make a movie.”

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The cast assembled for the once-only reading included Alan Cumming, Olympia Dukakis, Jesse Eisenberg, Will Ferrell, Dan Hedaya, Kristen Johnston, Natasha Lyonne, Anne Meara, Mos Def, Rosie Perez, Paul Rudd and Celia Weston.

Script was adapted by Kramer and Steven Soderbergh from John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Set in New Orleans in 1963, the comic classic centers on Ignatius Reilly, a slothful, obese intellectual misfit living at home with his boozy mother and forced to endure undignified jobs while mingling with the human detritus of the French Quarter.

“The reason for doing this was to open it up and use the knowledge people have of the project toward the development process,” Green explained after the reading. “I had my plants in the audience, some of whom had read the book and some who hadn’t, so I could ask them what played and what didn’t.”

“David and I felt it would be great for us to involve that part of the community that are active moviegoers and make them participants in the process,” Kramer added. “They’re who we’re making the film for.”

Having shuffled the project through various incarnations for 24 years since the book was first optioned by him at Fox, Kramer will produce with Flower Films partners Drew Barrymore and Nancy Juvonen. Soderbergh and Scott Rudin will serve as exec producers, the latter as part of a settlement after Kramer and Soderbergh wrestled back the rights from him and Paramount.

However, the financing structure behind the film remains unclear. While Miramax has owned the project since rescuing it from development hell in mid-2002, the studio says there is no movement on the production.

And Miramax production execs were conspicuously absent at the Nantucket reading.

But Kramer says shooting will start either in the fall or in spring 2004, with pre-production in New Orleans to begin as early as next month.

The producer is reluctant to discuss negotiations for financing, but industry speculation centers on the nascent Warner specialty division — of which Soderbergh is a principal architect — stepping in, with or without Miramax’s ongoing involvement.

Kramer confirms negotiations on all but one of the principal roles are advancing. Of the actors onstage in Nantucket, Dukakis and Def are attached to the feature, along with Barrymore, Cathy Moriarty and Amanda Peet.

While the audience responded warmly to Ferrell’s haughty comic turn in the lead role, discussions center chiefly around Philip Seymour Hoffman.