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High-priced directors pitch projects

Jackson, Mann shop for studio deals

Two big-ticket projects have just hit the street, and the directors attached bring prestige — but also major budget and control issues.

Peter Jackson is shopping “The Lovely Bones,” while Michael Mann has just sent out an untitled period drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The appetite for both projects could be enhanced by the timing of their arrival amid fears of a potential guild-driven work stoppage.

Studios, which hurried out a bunch of subpar films the last time they faced a possible strike, have placed a premium on plum scripts that don’t require massive rewriting. Jackson is assuring an Oct. 29 start date and a finished picture by fourth quarter 2008. Mann plans to begin production in February.

As of Wednesday, the bidding was still ongoing for both projects.

Mann and screenwriter John Logan have been working in secret on their script since last September.

Jackson, who used his own money to buy rights to Alice Sebold novel “The Lovely Bones,” took even longer to prepare a script with his “Lord of the Rings” co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.

After “King Kong,” Jackson always insisted that “Bones” would be his next directing project, and not “The Hobbit.”

New Line, who shares the rights for “Hobbit” with MGM’s Harry Sloane, was the only studio this week left out of the bidding for “Bones,” due to topper Bob Shaye’s fiery declaration that he’ll never again work with Jackson.

The town was waiting to see if Jackson’s “Bones” efforts would be rewarded with his asking price: a $65 million budget and a total package that some say could reach $90 million — for a pic whose premise feels more arthouse than tentpole.

Also uncertain Wednesday: whether Mann would get a studio to pay the projected $120 million pricetag for an untitled period drama set in 1930s Hollywood in which DiCaprio would star as a private eye used by studios to clean up star scandals and keep them out of the papers.

New Line was the first to put a bid of some $100 million on the table for Mann’s film; several other studios were circling. Mann will produce the film with DiCaprio and Logan under his Forward Pass banner.

Meanwhile, two days after bringing his project to the marketplace, Jackson and manager Ken Kamins had DreamWorks, Warner Bros., Sony and Universal circling.

DreamWorks would be a natural fit for the Jackson project since DreamWorks co-chair-CEO Stacey Snider and Jackson have a good relationship after making “Kong” together when Snider was at Universal. Also, DreamWorks had at one time bid for rights to “Bones.”

One reason for the delay in finalizing a deal for “Bones” has been Jackson’s request for promotional commitments and suggestions as to how a studio would market the film.

Studio execs who were crunching the numbers said that while both scripts were excellent, neither picture was a no-brainer.

Jackson is making a film based on a celebrated book whose protag is the ghost of a young girl who has been brutally murdered.

Mann, who is coming off disappointing returns on “Miami Vice,” will direct a period Hollywood piece, a genre with inconsistent results. But he has DiCaprio, who is sizzling hot after “Blood Diamond” and “The Departed.”

The Mann crime drama is laced with a classic Hollywood touchstone: The backdrop is the MGM lot during production of “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.” There’s also a Bugsy Siegel shootout at the Trocadero nightclub on Sunset Boulevard.

Mann, DiCaprio and Logan have an easy working relationship, honed on “The Aviator.” Mann produced that film but originally developed the script with Logan at a time he expected to direct DiCaprio as the eccentric industrialist Howard Hughes.

Not eager to direct another biopic after “The Insider” and “Ali,” Mann handed the script to Martin Scorsese so that the picture could go into production before several rival Hughes films that were also mobilizing, including one with Jim Carrey and director Christopher Nolan.

If Mann and his CAA reps walk away with a deal, DiCaprio would finally find himself before Mann’s camera lens after years of attempts. Aside from “The Aviator,” they tried to team on a James Dean biopic and fact-based drama “The Inside Man.”

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