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COMPANY TOWN : Top Dollar for Movie Idea : Screenwriter Eszterhas Gets a Record-Setting Deal

October 14, 1994|CLAUDIA ELLER | TIMES MOVIE EDITOR

Star screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, best known for penning the erotic thriller "Basic Instinct," wowed Hollywood on Thursday with another record-breaking deal.

New Line Cinema agreed to pay him $2.5 million cash upfront and additional $1.5 million when cameras roll for four pages of "notes and thoughts" on a love story that he and director Adrian Lyne will " shape into a movie."

Additionally, Eszterhas--already one of the highest-paid screenwriters in the business--will receive 2.5% of all revenue New Line collects from the movie after $20 million.

Eszterhas' agent, Guy McElwaine of International Creative Management, said, "No one has ever paid this for a movie idea."

Lyne, whose directorial screen credits include the hits "Indecent Proposal" and "Fatal Attraction"--will direct the Eszterhas story, titled "One Night Stand." Eszterhas describes the piece as "a small-scale love story with a universal theme that explores marital fidelity and intimate relationships in the '90s."

Eszterhas, whose controversial off-camera life became highly public when he left his wife of 24 years for one of their best friends (whom he married in July), concedes, "It's my own personal script written from the heart." However, the writer says that while he was inspired by his real-life experiences, the story of "One Night Stand" does not exactly parallel that situation. Rather, the movie centers on the ramifications and complications that arise when two married people meet and have a one-night stand on a business trip in Florida.

New Line, owned by Ted Turner, will pay Lyne a $250,000 development fee to work on "One Night Stand" and a director's fee of $7 million once the movie starts shooting. That is $1 million more than the $6 million Lyne will be paid to direct "Lolita" for Carolco Pictures and $2 million more than he received to direct last year's "Indecent Proposal."

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New Line Chairman Robert Shaye says he expects to shoot "One Night Stand" early next year and have it ready for release in 1996, when the company also plans to have such high-profile movies in the marketplace as the sequel to its summer hit, "The Mask."

Asked why New Line would pay such a huge sum for a movie proposal, Shaye said, "With Joe Eszterhas and Adrian Lyne, you're more than investing in an idea, you're investing in a film with a world- class screenwriter and director who can attract world-class talent." The New Line chief said he regards the four-page pitch more as "a completed package than notes on a piece of paper."

The purchase of "One Night Stand," in which New Line beat out Cinergi Prods./Hollywood Pictures and Savoy Pictures, marks the second high-ticket piece of material for the New York-based independent company in the last several months.

In late July, New Line paid a record $4 million for Shane Black's script "The Long Kiss Goodnight," which Renny Harlin is to direct with his actress wife, Geena Davis, in the lead role. Production on that movie is also pending the fate of the couple's soon-to-shoot pirate movie, "Cutthroat Island," which is in pre-production in Malta. It is in jeopardy of having its plug pulled if Carolco fails to get sorely needed production funds to go forward.

Ironically, Carolco is in the process of selling off rights to Eszterhas' script "Showgirls" to French media giant Chargeurs, to help fund the production of "Cutthroat."

It was last year that Eszterhas sold a pitch for "Showgirls," a rock musical, for more than $1.5 million. He subsequently auctioned the actual script to Carolco Pictures for $2.2 million.

In 1992, Eszterhas became the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood with his record $3-million sale of "Basic Instinct" to Carolco. He later sold the courtroom thriller "Jade" to Paramount for $2.2 million. It is set to begin production Jan. 10 with William Friedkin directing and former "NYPD Blue" star David Caruso in the lead role. It too was originally sold as a four-page outline to Weintraub Entertainment Group.

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The $2.5 million upfront for "One Night Stand" is the highest price anyone has ever been paid to write an original script from an idea.

That beats the $1.6 million against $3.4 million that producer Jon Peters agreed to pay Eszterhas to adapt a book about Mafia kingpin John Gotti for Columbia Pictures.

Last May, the high-profile screenwriter made a ground-breaking deal when he sold the rock 'n' roll mystery "Foreplay" to Savoy for $1 million against a total of $3.5 million.

HOLLYWOOD THRILLER

Joe Eszterhas is one of Hollywood's leading screenwriters, with sexually charged thrillers such as "Basic Instinct" to his credit. He also penned the screen adaptation of "Sliver," which failed domestically but attracted big audiences overseas. Eszterhas' latest idea brought in record-setting fee from New Line Cinema.

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