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‘Hangover’ helmer still on a high

Phillips moves on to 'Due Date,' 'Hangover 2'

Todd Phillips will next direct the road trip comedy “Due Date” and follow one year later with “The Hangover 2.”

The commitments come one day after “The Hangover” crossed the $210 million domestic gross mark and surpassed “Wedding Crashers” to become the second biggest grossing R-rated comedy ever.

That puts Phillips on track to earn $35 million or more on “The Hangover” after he gave back his salary and gross position to become an equity investment partner in the pic alongside financiers Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures. Move allowed him to make the film with Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms, who were not proven at the box office.

Galifianakis will play one of the two leads in “Due Date,” an Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland script that was revised by Adam Sztykiel. In the comedy about fatherhood, an expectant dad and his unlikely travel companion (Galifianakis) race cross-country in hopes of making it home for the birth of his first child.

Both “Due Date” and “The Hangover 2” will follow the same production track as “The Hangover.” The plan is for the “Due Date” shoot to begin Oct. 6, and the film will be released next year in the first weekend of June, just like “The Hangover.” The sequel will begin production in October 2010 and will be released Memorial Day weekend 2011.

Warner Bros. hired Phillips and Scot Armstrong to begin writing “The Hangover 2” right after early test scores left the studio optimistic that it had a winner (Daily Variety, April 5).

The film has become WB’s biggest grossing comedy ever, trailing only “Beverly Hills Cop” ($234 million) in grosses for an R-rated comedy. Studio believes “The Hangover” will finish around $240 million to become the biggest domestic grossing comedy ever and the third highest grossing R-rated film ever, behind “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Matrix Reloaded.”

Phillips never wagered as smartly as he did on “The Hangover.” Because he insisted on his cast, WB Pictures Group prexy Jeff Robinov gave him a budget ceiling of $34 million, and the only way Phillips could make that number was to work for scale and use salary and gross to buy his way into being an equity investor.

Had the comedy not covered the studio’s investment in budget and P&A, Phillips would have lost. But Phillips liked his script, had seen Galifianakis 15 times doing standup and felt Helms and Cooper were poised for breakout performances. The gamble gave him slightly more than 15% of the film’s revenue, which makes possible a payday that will be far higher than if he had taken his usual fee.

Neither Phillips nor WB would comment on his payday, but the director said it was less about money than making a movie the way he wanted to.

“To me, the casting was as crystal clear as it was on ‘Old School,’ ” Phillips said. “I remember some executives just didn’t understand the casting, and on ‘The Hangover,’ I felt we’d been seeing the same faces in a lot of comedies, and that it was time to mix it up.

“Warners was a bit apprehensive, but Jeff said very politely, ‘Look, I’ll make the version you want… if you can do it for this number. That number basically required me to take no money and cut back in other areas as well. But I’ll gamble on myself anytime.”

Robinov made clear that he and WB chief Alan Horn will be happy to pay off the director’s winning bet.

“We liked that script, we believed in Todd, and we were trying to break into the comedy business, something Warner Bros. wasn’t known for,” Robinov said. “Greenlighting ‘The Hangover’ with three actors who, though talented, weren’t well known, put a lot of pressure on the budget. We couldn’t be happier for Todd. He believed in the picture and took a risk alongside the studio, and he deserves this.”

Phillips had several projects percolating including “Man-Witch,” the comedy that he originally expected to direct with Jack Black. Galifianakis is being courted as the possible star, but Phillips has stepped out as director. His Green Hat Films banner will produce with Neal Moritz, and they will look for a new helmer.

Phillips won’t gamble on either of the next two films, earning his new deal, which is an escalated upfront fee against first dollar gross, in a deal made by CAA.

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