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Team Disney--flying High In Burbank

July 28, 1985|DAVID T. FRIENDLY

At this point--the real test will come when the movies come out--Disney's makeover seems to be well-received by the movie community. As they did at Paramount, Eisner and Katzenberg have earned a reputation for making fast decisions. "If you turn in a script on a Friday, by Monday they have suggestions for the rewrite," says Dan Petrie Jr., who was signed to a $1.5-million, three-year deal to write, produce and direct movies for Disney. "At other studios, they'll pay you $200,000 to write a script and then wait six months after you deliver it to let you know what they thought of it."

But a number of critics say there is sometimes an arrogant subtext to the way business is conducted and that often they're too tough on prices paid for their own good. "They are so tight on deals," says one prominent agent. "They really think you should consider it an honor to do business with them--that they know how to make pictures better than anyone else. . . . Money is not everything, but it is something. They are not the only ones making pictures, and sometimes they do come off penny-wise and pound-foolish."

Industry observers say that Disney has a precise sense of what kinds of movies they want to make. At Paramount, the mix ranged from "Witness" and the "Star Trek" series to "48 HRS." and the "Friday the 13th" slaughters. At Disney, insiders say they're developing a wide-ranging palate of "high concept" movies (translation: strong story, instantly recognizable plot lines) leaning toward comedy. "We understand comedy and we'll move in that direction," says one ranking executive. "Don't expect to see 'Friday the 13th,' but 'Flashdance'? Sure."

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Friday August 2, 1985 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 12 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Lauren Shuler was mistakenly credited with producing "Desperately Seeking Susan" in an article in Calendar on Sunday. Shuler recently produced "Ladyhawke" and is now making "Pretty in Pink"; producers of "Desperately Seeking Susan" were Midge Sanford and Sarah Pillsbury.

"Unlike a lot of studios today, they have a product point of view," says Bill Block, International Creative Management literary agent.

To protect the pristine Disney image for family entertainment, racier fare will fall under the Touchstone Films banner, though insiders say that brand name is due for a change because the new team finds it a bit pretentious.

Following are some of the high-priority movies coming from Disney in the next two years. Several are shooting now, but in some cases the deals are still being haggled. With 75 projects in development, this list is not all-inclusive.

"Down and Out in Beverly Hills"--Shooting now in Beverly Hills and due out next spring, this updated remake of Jean Renoir's "Boudu Saved From Drowning" was one of the first movies green-lighted by the new regime. Directed by Paul Mazursky, it's about a wealthy couple (Bette Midler and Richard Dreyfuss) who take in a drifter (Nick Nolte), who then wreaks havoc on their once-comfortable lives.

If you think the cast is atypical for Disney, there's an added curiosity: The next-door neighbor is played by Little Richard.

(And look for more Midler movies. She has a production and development deal at the studio and Midler is a loyal Eisner/Katzenberg fan. She said in an interview, "Even when I was down on my luck, they felt I could make a good picture.")

"Captain Eo"--Currently shooting, this 12-minute 3-D short produced by George Lucas, directed by Francis Coppola and starring Michael Jackson, will become a permanent attraction at Disneyland and Epcot Center. No one is giving out budget numbers, but the film is said to cost between $10 million and $15 million. It is part of an overall attempt to update the theme parks (Lucas is also said to be working on a "Star Wars" ride at Disneyland as well).

"My Science Project"--One of a crop of science-tinged youth comedies, it's about a high school senior who must complete a science project for an ex-hippie teacher (Dennis Hopper) or he won't graduate. To make matters worse, the poor guy has lost his woman. It stars a handful of youthful unknowns (none of the "St. Elmo's Fire" gang here). Directed by the film's screenwriter, novelist Jonathan Betuel, who also wrote "The Last Starfighter."

"The Journey of Natty Gann"--This is one of the few holdover projects backed by the new regime. A 13-year-old girl (Meredith Salanger) heads from Chicago to Seattle in the height of the Depression to find her father. Along the way, she is befriended by a spunky 16-year-old boy (John Ciusak) and a friendly wolf who together help her to overcome a series of obstacles on the way. A classic Disney concept with a modern look. Jeremy Kagan ("The Chosen") directed. Due in September.

"Splash 2"--Although the deal isn't set, Disney is developing a "Splash" redux script that would reunite everyone's favorite mermaid (Daryl Hannah) and the very hot Tom Hanks. Alex Gorbey and Andy Rose are scripting for producer Grazer, whose "The Last Secret" (the plot remains a secret) probably will be made at Disney before this one. Insiders say Disney would have to pay Hannah upward of $1 million plus a profit participation to bring her back--and this may not fit Disney's cost-conscious plans. In the era of the sequel, the obvious commercial potential of the project makes it a movie they are eager to make.

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