‘World’ wants U.S. home

Pitchman Chan spins '80 Days' plan

This article was updated on May 18, 2003 at 5:20 p.m.

CANNES — Action star Jackie Chan has flung himself from tall buildings and dangled from helicopters. But when he arrived in Cannes Sunday to junket the Walden Media remake of “Around the World in 80 Days,” he sought to pull off an even more ambitious stunt.

He was hoping to generate a blast of favorable buzz for “80 Days,” which at a budget of $110 million may be the most expensive movie ever to be produced without a U.S. distrib.

At a press conference in a conference room of the Majestic Hotel, Chan announced additional casting on the pic: “Shanghai Knights” co-star Owen Wilson and his brother Luke have been recruited for cameos in the pic as the Wright brothers.

But Walden has sought a U.S. partner since January, when Paramount broke off talks to distrib “80 Days” in the U.S. and a number of foreign territories.

Neither side will discuss the reason, but sources said the sticking points were budget and cast. Walden has a first-look deal with Disney, but “80 Days,” which has been in development at the company for a few years, was never included in the deal.

Sources close to the pic said there’s strong interest from U.S. majors, but studios have been waiting for footage. “It’s not the kind of film you want to pre-buy,” said one top exec.

Walden Media is controlled by Denver-based billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Pic also stars Steve Coogan, Kathy Bates, Jim Broadbent and Cecile de France; Frank Coraci is the director; “Terminator 3” producer Hal Lieberman and “About Schmidt” producer Bill Badalato are producing.

In Cannes, Chan sat at the press conference with Coogan, de France and Coraci.

In the conference room, flat-screen TVs showed behind-the-scenes footage, and banners portraying Victorian gentlemen and ladies hung from the ceiling.

Chan sought to explain why the pic would appeal to American audiences.

“There’s no violence, no sex and no dirty jokes,” he said. “Parents let their children go to Jackie Chan movies.”

“This is a time of great action films, like ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ” Coraci added. “But there hasn’t been a funny one.”

Halfway through its schedule, “80 Days” is shooting at Babelsberg, outside Berlin, after a stint in Thailand. It will later move to L.A.

Though it’s unusual for talent to junket such a movie in Cannes while production is ongoing, Babelsberg is close enough to the French Riviera that it shouldn’t affect the shooting schedule.

“80 Days” has already found keen interest outside the U.S. Summit, which began repping the film overseas two years ago, has sold the pic in more than 30 territories, with sales to key players like Roadshow in Australia, Nippon Herald in Japan and Pathe in France.

With Spain and Italy the only unsold major markets outside the U.S., foreign sales have kicked in more than 55% of the budget, Walden Media chief Cary Granat says.

But overseas campaigns for event films like “80 Days” are generally piggybacked onto the North American campaign. While some films (“Spirited Away,” “The Pianist”) have found big global success before a wide release in the U.S., it’s rare for a tentpole to make such a move.

Walden has further offset its risk by mining German tax fund money to finance the pic.

But that leaves Walden on the hook for tens of millions — a steep investment for a fledgling company, despite the deep pockets of Anschutz and the success of its first two releases, “Holes” and Imax feature “Ghosts of the Abyss.”

Walden is ramping up production on “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Like “80,” “Wardrobe” dovetails with Walden’s oft-stated mission of developing commercial properties for the mainstream theatrical market and for the education market.

Based on Jules Verne’s classic, “80 Days” stars Chan as Passepartout, who steals a jade Buddha and seeks refuge with a straight-laced adventurer named Phileas Fogg, played by Coogan.

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