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Millennium wins rights to ‘Conan’

Film will be company's most ambitious project

In a seven-figure deal, Millennium Films has acquired the rights to make a new series of pics based on Robert E. Howard’s mythical conqueror Conan the Barbarian.

Paradox Entertainment prexy-CEO Fredrik Malmberg chose Millennium after extricating the rights from Warner Bros. last spring and putting them on the market with strict progress-to-production provisions in mid-June.

Malmberg will produce with Millennium’s Avi Lerner, Boaz Davidson, Joe Gatta and George Furla. Millennium either will fully finance or partner with a distributor, with discussions to begin this week.

Company’s aim is to start production by next spring.

Malmberg declined to renew another option with Warners when the rights lapsed in spring. He was frustrated that seven years’ worth of development at WB had not yielded a production start on the franchise that launched the film career of Arnold Schwarzenegger in its first bigscreen go-round.

The recent summer success of branded properties like “Spider-Man,” “The Simpsons” and “Transformers” led to a receptive marketplace for Conan. The property already is a globally established brand that has 40 licenses including a top-selling Dark Horse comicbook, an upcoming vidgame for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and the Funcom/Eidos massively multiplayer online role-playing game “Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures.”

When CAA brought the package to the marketplace, at least four suitors were interested, including Millennium and “300” producer Gianni Nunnari’s Hollywood Gang. New Line emerged with exclusive negotiating rights (Daily Variety, June 28) but could not make a deal. Buyers at the time were caught short by Malmberg’s deal terms: He was asking $1 million for one-year option, with another $1 million for each year’s renewal.

Millennium wouldn’t reveal what it paid, but the producer-financier had an advantage in Gatta: The former Gersh agent brokered the original Conan deal with WB in 2002, and he knew the property and Malmberg well.

“While it’s a rich deal for us, we believe in the brand and that this will lead to multiple pictures,” Gatta said.

Millennium is in production on the Al Pacino-Robert De Niro starrer “Righteous Kill” and the Sylvester Stallone starrer “John Rambo,” but the Conan pic will be the most ambitious project it has mounted.

Putting together a big-scale project from scratch on such a tight timetable won’t be easy. WB invested seven years of sweat, with top-shelf names like Larry and Andy Wachowski, John Milius (who directed the original from a script he co-wrote with Oliver Stone) and Robert Rodriguez all writing drafts. Boaz Yakin penned the last one.

Malmberg and Millennium will start over, since WB owns those other scripts and execs there weren’t happy that Malmberg took Conan elsewhere. The new version will be more faithful to Howard’s original creation than were the Schwarzenegger films.

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