Joe Roth is back … again.
The Revolution Studios topper has lined up 10 pics for the next chapter in his career: independent producer. It’s the latest incarnation for a once formidable player who has watched his luster fade.
Rueful about Revolution’s inability to gain creative traction, Roth brightens considerably when talking about his post-Revolution projects.
The eclectic slate ranges from a fact-based 9/11 project in development at Sony to a live-action version of “Alice in Wonderland” for Disney.
Several already have major stars attached; Meryl Streep is keen on “Ann’s List,” the 9/11 project, and longtime Roth collaborator Julia Roberts is attached to two pics.
Four of the projects are set up at Sony, Revolution’s distribution partner, under a first-look deal that began April 1. Two others are set up at Fox labels; Roth ran that studio before a six-year stint doing the same at Disney.
With the weekend bow of “Perfect Stranger,” he has three Revolution pics still to bow: “Next,” a Nicolas Cage thriller out later this month, “Across the Universe,” a Beatles-fueled period love story that he’s been battling helmer Julie Taymor to trim for a Sept. 28 release, and “The Water Horse,” an f/x driven story about the Loch Ness monster.
His first post-Revolution project, “Trouble Man,” was one he started developing for Revolution, but set up at Fox after Sony co-chair Amy Pascal passed on it. Chris Tucker and Eva Mendes are attached to play an undercover agent and a woman who’s had bad luck with men.
Roth is developing “The Noble Warriors” from a trilogy of Y/A fantasy books by “Gladiator” scribe Bill Nicholson for Sony. The first draft of that pic is already in.
Also at Sony: “Ann’s List,” the story of a mother whose daughter died in the 9/11 attacks. The mother discovers her daughter’s list of things she would like to do and decides to do them for her.
Also on tap, an adaptation of “The Taxonomy of Barnacles,” a Galt Niederhoffer tome. “99 Problems,” a project Roth began developing at Revolution, will carry over to the new Sony deal.
“Lion King” scribe Linda Woolverton is writing “Alice,” the “Alice in Wonderland” project that will blend live-action and CG.
And Roberts is attached to “Eye Contact,” a thriller being penned by “Penelope” scribe Leslie Caveny, and “Happiness Sold Separately,” a book adaptation Scott Coffey will direct for Fox Searchlight.
The 10th project, and one he’s taking a less active hand in, is “The Great Debaters,” a Weinstein Co. pic Denzel Washington will direct and star in with Forest Whitaker. That project was originally set up at Miramax and at one time, Roth was going to take it on at Revolution.
Roth admits that developing these projects, while also saying goodbye to the company he founded seven years ago, has been strange.
“I’m no good with transition,” he said last week at Revolution’s Santa Monica offices. “I don’t know anyone who is.”
For now, he’s wearing two hats. In the meantime, he’s adjusting to the economic realities of independent producing after so many years running production entities.
“It’s very different,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve been a pure seller in 20 years.”
Roth said Taymor is now trimming “Across the Universe” and notes that surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have already seen the movie, as has Bono, who appears in it.
New Zealand effects house Weta is putting the finishing touches on “The Water Horse,” a joint production with Beacon and Walden Media skedded for a holiday debut.
Although Revolution, and by extension Roth, have taken their knocks thanks to misfires like “Gigli” and “Hollywood Homicide,” Roth says he’s proud of its accomplishments. He pointed out that investors got their money back, and that Revolution was able, “every once in a while,” to turn out movies like “Black Hawk Down,” “Anger Management” and “XXX” despite budget limitations.
“I’m old fashioned that way — I want people to get their money back,” Roth said. “If I am self critical, which I am only 29 hours a day, I was too concerned about it.” He found running a midsize company harder than a large studio, and looks forward to being able to focus on fewer projects as an independent producer.
Only now, he won’t have a guaranteed distributor in Sony.
“They’ve probably had their fill of me,” he said, with a self-deprecating chuckle.
For now, he has no plans to direct any of these projects, but then again, “I never set out to direct projects,” Roth said.
Revolution staffers have already started to move on to the next phase of their careers. Once topping out at approximately 55, the staff is down to about 20, and by year’s end, it will have narrowed to four, including Suzanne and Jennifer Todd. Rob Moore and Jeff Small have decamped for studio jobs, and by year’s end, longtime compadre Tom Sherak will have joined them, though Roth jokes, “he’s never going to leave.” J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot shingle and BermanBraun, the Lloyd Braun and Gail Berman company, have set up shop in parts of the building not used by Revolution.
“It doesn’t feel any different right now, but it probably will at some point. I hope for my mental health I have a picture started by then,” Roth said.
“I don’t have any regrets at all, but I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t wish the movies were better.”