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Lionsgate leaps on ‘Conan’

Nu Image to return 'Barbarian' to big screen

Nu Image/Millennium Films has made a North American distribution rights deal with Lionsgate for a new film series based on the Robert E. Howard-created character Conan the Barbarian.

The first film will be written by the team of Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer (“Sahara,” “Cowboys & Aliens”).

Pic will be produced by Lerner, Boaz Davidson, Joe Gatta, Paradox Entertainment’s Fredrick Malmberg, George Furla and Henry Winterstern. Trevor Short and Dimbort are exec producers.

Pic is earmarked to begin production later this year, but the start date will depend on the resolution of the writers strike. Nu Image/Millennium chief Avi Lerner confirmed that he is in discussions to make a WGA deal akin to those brokered with United Artists and the Weinstein Co. Such a pact would speed up the process.

“It’s a possibility, though I haven’t studied it enough to make a final decision,” Lerner told Daily Variety. “The whole strike is stupid, in my opinion. They approached us, indirectly, to make some kind of deal, and we are looking at it.”

Though the original film series dates back far enough that it launched the star of current California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the property maintains a strong brand awareness through ancillary properties that include a Dark Horse comicbook series, a vidgame for Xbox 360 and a Funcom/Eidos multiplayer online role-playing game that was just touted at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Lionsgate, which has also been rumored to have been courted by the WGA, hasn’t commented on its plans. But Nu Image/Millennium founders Lerner and Danny Dimbort are the ones fully financing a film that Lerner anticipates will cost around $100 million. It is by far the most fiscally ambitious film he and Dimbort have undertaken.

Lerner said the Lionsgate deal came out of a strong working relationship developed through the Sylvester Stallone-directed actioner “Rambo,” which will be released Jan. 25 by Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co.

“I’m very happy with Jon Feltheimer and his whole team. They understand the business and the value of money better than a lot of studios,” Lerner said. “We will finance the movie, but the idea is to work closely with them on a creative level and use their experience.”Pic will be produced by Lerner, Boaz Davidson and Joe Gatta, along with Fredrick Malmberg of Paradox Entertainment. Trevor Short, Dimbort and George Furla are exec producers.

Malmberg made a seven-figure deal with Millennium after he declined to renew Warner Bros.’ option on the Conan property after seven years. Gatta, who once repped the property as an agent before moving to Millennium as an exec, courted Malmberg for a deal that contains strict progress-to-production provisions.

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