Dueling directors Milk a good story

Singer, Van Sant line up similar projects

Got Milk?

Directors Bryan Singer and Gus Van Sant think they may.

Each is trying to be first in production with a film about Harvey Milk, the San Francisco supervisor and first openly gay elected official in the U.S., who was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by Supervisor Daniel White.

After 15 years in development, “The Mayor of Castro Street,” the movie based on the book by Randy Shilts, is moving toward the starting gate. Warner Independent Prods., which brought in Singer two years ago, is near a deal with Participant Prods. to co-finance and with Chris McQuarrie to write the final draft.

Now, Van Sant has attached himself to an untitled Milk script by Dustin Lance Black, writer of several episodes of the HBO drama “Big Love.” The writer’s agents at Endeavor will shop the script early next week.

McQuarrie, who first teamed with Singer on “The Usual Suspects,” is working with the director on an untitled WWII thriller at United Artists that McQuarrie wrote with Nathan Alexander. Tom Cruise is toplining an ensemble drama about German generals who hatch a scheme to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

The fates of “Capote” and “Infamous” have demonstrated how important it is to be first in the marketplace when it comes to rival fact-based pictures. “Capote” came first and became an awards season darling highlighted by an Oscar win for Philip Seymour Hoffman; “Infamous” followed a year later, and, despite good reviews, a dead-on Capote perf by Toby Jones and the presence of Daniel Craig and Sandra Bullock, barely got noticed.

Adding to the intrigue is that fact that Van Sant was once set to direct “Castro Street” and even wrote a draft of the script years ago for Warners.

Craig Zadan, who is producing “The Mayor of Castro Street” with Neil Meron, liked their chances to get into production quickly. This despite Singer’s commitment to the Cruise movie, “Valkyrie,” which has a July 8 start date, and a “Superman Returns” sequel which Warner Bros. hopes to have ready for release in 2009.

“We’re seeing the light at the end of a long tunnel,” he said. “Warner Independent is pushing us to get the film made right away. Some of it might have to do with the enormous success of ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ and some of it is passion for the right tone and the story we are telling. Chris has nailed the take, and the goal is to have the script ready so that we can make the movie as soon as Bryan finishes his UA film. We’ve had tremendous response from actors.”