New Line, Walden dig ‘Worms’ adaptation

Dolman to direct own script

New Line has teamed up with Walden Media to co-finance and produce “How to Eat Fried Worms,” an adaptation of the Thomas Rockwell young-adult novel. Bob Dolman (“The Banger Sisters”) wrote the script and will direct.

A July start date has been set for the pic, a co-production between Mark Johnson’s Gran Via and Imagine Entertainment.

Johnson is producing with Philip Steuer; the pair are behind Walden’s upcoming adaptation of the C.S. Lewis fantasy novel “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which Disney releases Dec. 9.

“Fried Worms” is a comedy about an 11-year-old boy whose first day in school devolves into a battle with the school bully. It leads to a dare that the youth can’t eat 10 worms in one day. The kid turns out to be “Fear Factor” material, and his exploits change the balance of power in the fifth grade.

“It is a classic kids book, but the thing that most appealed to me is that it is the seminal book on anti-bullying,” said Walden Media chief Cary Granat. “It is a very empowering story for kids.”

The company was launched as part of the Anschutz Film Group to offer uplifting kids’ stories and bolster their messages through educational outreach programs. “Fried Worms” will exercise both arms of the company, as Granat said the film will be used as a tool to teach tolerance. Walden execs Alex Schwartz and David Kaufmann will oversee the project with Gran Via’s Tm Williams and New Line’s Cale Boyter and Michael Disco.

Project is the second for Walden and New Line, which also have a summer start date on an adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s “Hoot.” Granat said “Hoot” is expected to open next spring and “Charlotte’s Web” next summer; “Fried Worms” wriggles into theaters late summer or fall 2006.

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