Goodfella in sendup mode

De Niro, Levinson reteam for Linson memoir

Robert De Niro is set to star in “What Just Happened?,” a film Barry Levinson will direct next summer based on Art Linson’s memoir about his experiences as a Hollywood producer.

Linson wrote the script and will produce with De Niro and his Tribeca Prods. partner Jane Rosenthal. Pic will be financed by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban’s 2929 Prods.

De Niro will play a Linson-like producer who is going through two weeks of hell as he tries to get a picture made. Sean Penn is expected to play himself, and other famous faces are slated to take part in a comedy the filmmakers hope will do for moviemaking what “Wag the Dog” did for politics. Levinson directed that political comedy, Rosenthal produced it, and De Niro starred in it.

It was at De Niro’s behest that Linson turned his book into a script. Linson, who produced such De Niro vehicles as “The Untouchables,” “Heat” and “This Boy’s Life,” gave the actor the book, and De Niro saw a character he wanted to play. Levinson said that while the script is funny, it is spot on in its depiction of the eccentricities of a peculiar business. Linson’s book was subtitled “Bitter Hollywood Tales From the Front Line,” after all.

“Art knows this game as well as anybody and has distilled the essence of the business into his script,” Levinson said. “A flat-out, full-bore comedy isn’t what we are going for here, but rather an insider’s look at the extraction of humanity that goes on.”

Levinson will make the film after he directs his script “Man of the Year” for Morgan Creek, with production beginning after Thanksgiving.

De Niro will star in the film after completing the Morgan Creek/Universal co-production “The Good Shepherd,” which he is directing.

“What Just Happened?” will be sold internationally at AFM next month by 2929 Intl.’s Shebnem Askin; 2929 hasn’t yet sought a domestic distribution deal for the film. Wagner, Cuban and Marc Butan will exec produce.

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