‘Pancho’ in Mexico mix

Scott scouts location for pic's 2004 prod'n start

After 12 years of trying, director Tony Scott is close to getting his wish to turn the Clifford Irving novel “Tom Mix and Pancho Villa” into an epic-sized film.

The director is in Mexico scouting locations for the story of an idealistic actor who leaves the comforts of Texas to join up with a revolutionary who would not embrace modern technology, even when the government was conscripting German fighter planes to bomb him and tanks to blast his armies.

Intermedia is mobilizing the film for a fall 2004 production start, pending cast, financing and the imminent delivery of a script rewrite by Steve Zaillian, who is reworking his own draft.

The timing of Scott’s visit to Mexico couldn’t be more fortuitous for the local film community, which is rallying against President Vicente Fox’s proposal to sell or liquidate the film school Center for Cinematic Preparation, the Estudios Churubusco Azteca film studio and film funding organization Imcine.

Beneficial business

Scott, who shot every frame of “Man on Fire” and “Revenge” in Mexico, is going public with his hope that the government will stay the course on an industry he feels can provide an economic boost.

“We hope to get them to re-evaluate the value of film as a successful business,” Scott said. “I shot ‘Man on Fire’ here and the settings were beautiful, dark and dangerous, almost like a third character in the movie. What many people don’t realize is the benefits go far beyond money spent and employment, but rather the residual benefits to tourism. When my brother Ridley shot ‘Gladiator’ in Morocco, the benefit to tourism was absolutely huge.”

For Intermedia, the pic will be another big-ticket undertaking: “Tom Mix and Pancho Villa” has the sweep and a budget well past the $100 million mark, like the company’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and the untitled Alexander the Great project that Oliver Stone is directing .

“This is ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ meets ‘The Wild Bunch,’ a huge film with trains, cavalry, thousands of soldiers in uniform and on horseback,” Scott said. “This is a love story between two men from different planets, who educated each other. Pancho Villa knew the laws of life, and Tom Mix knew how to live in a modernized Western world.”

Long in the works

Pic has had a long gestation period. The first major draft was done by Stone, and the project moved from Hemdale to Nelson, finally ending up with Intermedia chairman Moritz Borman, who corralled and owns all the underlying rights. Scott has been involved long enough that he once planned for it to be his followup to 1993’s “True Romance.”

The director is on a five-year quest to make his three dream projects. First up was “Man on Fire,” a project he developed for 20 years before making it with his “Crimson Tide” star Denzel Washington. Scott hopes to follow with “Tom Mix and Pancho Villa,” then turn his attention to the William Nicholson-scripted Universal drama “American Caesar.” CAA reps Scott.

Intermedia’s Borman said he’s confident his company can weather another big-ticket undertaking, provided Zaillian’s script lands big stars.

“We’re in the same position we were on ‘Alexander’ 18 months ago, in that we don’t have a finished script, financing or cast, but we are confident from the last draft that we will make the movie,” said Borman, who will produce with Barry Spikings. Scott Free, the shingle run by Lisa Ellzey for Tony and Ridley Scott, will be involved in a producing capacity as well.