Waters, New Line get ‘Dirty’

Ullman, Isaak, Blair star in comedy

NEW YORK — Continuing a relationship that has kept John Waters in the New Line family for 32 years, specialty division Fine Line Features has closed a long-brewing deal for worldwide rights to the iconoclastic director’s next feature, “A Dirty Shame,” which starts shooting Wednesday in Baltimore.

The comedy stars Tracey Ullman as a blue-collar convenience store owner who becomes gripped by uncontrollable carnal lust after suffering a concussion.

Chris Isaak has joined the cast, replacing Paul Giamatti, who was originally attached when the project was announced in June but has since dropped out. Johnny Knoxville and Selma Blair also star.

“I came to New Line in 1971 when it was just Bob Shaye and a staff of about five people, and I’ve, well … spiritually never left,” said Waters. “New Line continues to be my cinematic home.”

New Line Cinema and Fine Line have distributed the majority of Waters’ films, starting with bad-taste classic “Pink Flamingos,” which catapulted Divine to underground stardom and was the director’s first film to obtain a theatrical release.

The relationship continued with “Female Trouble,” “Desperate Living,” “Polyester,” “Hairspray” and “Pecker.” New Line is also one of the producers of the smash Broadway adaptation of “Hairspray,” which won eight Tony Awards this year, including best musical.

Deal represents not only the return of Waters to New Line/Fine Line but a return for the company to the kind of edgy, outlandish fare on which it was founded.

“Some branches of the company have grown mightier than others,” New Line co-chair/co-CEO Bob Shaye told Daily Variety. “The offbeat, unique filmmaking that we were so akin to in our beginnings doesn’t always pay the bills, so we’ve had to move into other types of movies. But we haven’t clipped off any of our roots,” he added.

“This is about as close to the iconoclasm of John’s early films as you can get,” said Shaye, just back from the Baltimore opening of “Hairspray,” which kicks off the national tour. “We’re very proud and excited to have John back in the fold.”

Fine Line’s deal to board the pic was announced by Mark Ordesky, president of Fine Line and exec VP-chief operating officer of New Line Prods. The film will go out in the U.S. as a Fine Line release through New Line. International territories will be handled by New Line Intl., going through the company’s regular distrib channels and output deals.

“John Waters is a maverick director with a unique comic sensibility and an important member of the New Line/Fine Line family,” said Ordesky. “It’s great to be working with him on ‘A Dirty Shame.’ ”

The film is being produced under the Fine Line banner by Ted Hope for This Is That and Christine Vachon for Killer Films. Exec producers are John Wells through his association with Killer and brothers Danny, Jack and Joe Fisher of City Lights Pictures. Meredith Finn and Mark Kaufman will oversee the project for Fine Line.

Acquisition was negotiated by Carolyn Blackwood for Fine Line, with legal reps Sue Bodine, Paul Brennan, Jason Hendler and CAA on behalf of Waters and the producers.

Deal consolidates the ongoing resurgence of Fine Line, which had been inactive in acquisitions through most of last year but has boosted its profile by pacting with HBO Films for theatrical release of key productions. Debut title for the joint venture was “American Splendor,” which has grossed $4 million to date; next up is Gus Van Sant’s Palme d’Or winner “Elephant,” opening Oct. 24.