Burton takes rain check on Par pic

Helmer, Carrey put 'Believe' on hold

Believe it or not, Paramount Pictures has postponed its Tim Burton-directed “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

But Par could still have a Burton-directed film on its schedule: The helmer will turn his attention to “Sweeney Todd,” a feature adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical developed by DreamWorks. Johnny Depp is attached to reteam with Burton for “Todd.”

Depp has time in his schedule since his early 2007 project, “Shantaram,” fell apart when director Peter Weir ankled (Daily Variety, June 12).

Burton was attached years ago to “Sweeney Todd” at Warner Bros. DreamWorks got into the mix when Burton dropped out and Sam Mendes developed the musical with screenwriter John Logan.

“Ripley’s,” which had been earmarked for a November start with Jim Carrey as the titular explorer-newspaper columnist, was pegged as an event film that would help define the studio’s new regime.

But Paramount has delayed the start of production on that film for at least one year, applying the brakes because of a budget that was north of $150 million and because Carrey and Burton wanted to make significant creative changes.

“Ripley” becomes the second Carrey vehicle to stall in recent weeks. But the studio said the delay on “Ripley’s” is not akin to that of “Used Guys,” the Jay Roach-directed Carrey-Ben Stiller comedy that was halted by Fox when its budget came in at $112 million.

“It’s the completely opposite situation,” Par’s co-prexy of production Brad Weston said. “We intend to make the movie with Tim and Jim, and the fact they are meeting later this week to continue working on the script shows our intent to go forward. We wanted to get to the right place creatively and financially, and through our relationship with DreamWorks, this picture switch was made easy and seamless. Everybody is still fully committed to making this happen, and now we can do that without spending money on a weekly basis for pre-production.”And while “Ripley’s” may seem to be another casualty of escalating budgets for Hollywood’s event pictures, Par prexy Gail Berman insisted in a statement that the film isn’t gone for good.

“We are looking forward to making ‘Ripley’s’ with Tim and Jim; just later than originally expected,” Berman said in a statement.

The decision was made at the conclusion of a process in which the studio scouted locations in China, a process that included gaining permissions from the government to shoot there. It also included haggling over deals. In Carrey’s case, he waived his entire upfront salary to unburden the production budget. It was still high, and the backend participation of Carrey and Burton are significant.

Aside from that, Carrey and Burton had ideas to change the script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski in ways significant enough to require rewrites by those scribes and a re-thinking of the f/x budget. The result would change the emphasis from Ripley to some of the wonders he uncovered for his “Believe It or Not” column.

Studio could have pushed the film to spring 2007, but a decision was made to postpone longer so Burton could make the other film.

Carrey was intent on avoiding a repeat of “Fun With Dick and Jane,” which began production with a script that wasn’t ready. That entailed liberal reshoots and editing.

Carrey will likely make another comedy while he, Burton and Paramount continue to work, in hopes they can meet up in China in fall 2007.