Real-life Killer

State led by tale of diet doc's murder

Gotham-based indie Killer Films is shopping a slate of projects to financiers here, including features from Todd Haynes, Dan Minahan, Tom Kalin, George C. Wolfe, Mary Harron, Bruce Wagner and newcomer Phyllis Nagy.

Leading the slate is “Mrs. Harris,” the first feature from London-based legit helmer Nagy, about Jean Harris, the WASPy blonde headmistress of a prestigious girls academy who murdered her nouveau riche Jewish husband Dr. Hy Tarnover, creator of the Scarsdale Diet. Killer is co-producing with Elizabeth Karlsen of Number 9 Films.

While Killer principals Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler were reluctant to discuss talent negotiations, sources report that Annette Bening and Ben Kingsley are close to a deal to star. Nagy loosely based her script on the unauthorized biography “Very Much a Lady.”

Also on the slate is Minahan’s “Simply Halston,” chronicling the life and death of the fashion guru, to be played by Alec Baldwin; and “Bettie Page,” the untold story of the 1950s cheesecake pinup girl, with Gretchen Mol attached to star for director Harron, who co-scripted with Guinevere Turner. IFC has committed to co-finance the latter pic, for which Killer is seeking additional coin.

“We’ve had a really great year, led by ‘Far From Heaven,’ which was a triumph for us,” Vachon tells Variety. “We want to keep growing in ways that make sense. Our slate is as eclectic as usual and people are starting to look to Killer as a brand name that really delivers exciting, innovative, provocative cinema.”

“We’re still working with first-timers, as well as continuing to nurture directors that started with us,” she adds.

Killer produced Haynes’ debut “Poison” and has been involved in all of his projects since. The company produced Minahan’s “Series 7: The Contenders,” Kalin’s “Swoon,” Harron’s “I Shot Andy Warhol” and Wagner’s “Women in Film.”

Vachon and Koffler are in Cannes with independent production attorney John Sloss of Cinetic Media to assemble financing on Killer’s upcoming projects, which will be exec produced by John Wells.

Killer’s overhead is covered by Wells’ production company, which was instrumental in sealing a first-look deal for the indie company with Warner Bros. Killer also will start jointly developing and co-producing projects with John Wells Prods.

“Our relationship with John Wells is developing in really interesting ways,” says Koffler.

Other features in the Killer pipeline include Haynes’ meditation on a biopic of Bob Dylan; and Kalin’s “Savage Grace,” the true story of a socialite murder and morbid family triangle with Julianne Moore, which Killer plans to start shooting next May.

Also coming together is Wagner’s “Special Needs,” about a Hollywood star who seeks legitimacy by instructing his agent to land him the role of a mentally impaired man in a David Cronenberg film, but then sustains disabilities in real life after being assaulted and injured. Cronenberg has signed to play himself in the role (but in Wagner’s upcoming novel, the filmmaker cited is Darren Aronofsky).

“It’s really sick,” enthuses Koffler. “It’s scathing but also really philosophical about the business.”

Killer also is readying “Ota Benga,” the first feature from Wolfe, artistic director of New York’s Public Theater, whose theatrical directing credits include “Angels in America” and “Topdog/Underdog.” The film is based on the true story of a turn-of-the-century anthropologist who traveled to the Congo to bring back a pygmy for the World’s Fair in St. Louis. Michael Manheim is co-producing.

“It’s one of those stories that comments on where America was in terms of its sense of itself, on its race relations and its identity,” Koffler explains. “It addresses some very deep issues through the story of two men who would never have known each other if not for these circumstances.”

Killer Films this year produced “Camp” and “Party Monster,” opening respectively in summer and fall via IFC Films and Strand Releasing; and Robert Altman’s backstage pic about Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, “The Company,” which Sony Pictures Classics will open at Christmas.

Killer also wraps shooting this week on “A Home at the End of the World,” directed by Michael Mayer and starring Colin Farrell, Dallas Roberts, Robin Wright Penn and Sissy Spacek. The adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s first novel recently was picked up for domestic release by Warner Bros.

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