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SNEAKS 2008

Coming not so soon after all

The writers strike forces studios to push back release dates for major movies.

January 13, 2008|Jay A. Fernandez | Special to The Times

In mid-November, about two weeks into the Writers Guild strike, a handful of high-profile projects that were originally intended for filming and release this year were delayed because studios, stars, directors or writers felt that the screenplays were not quite ready to shoot. Here's what you won't be seeing in 2008.

The first and biggest casualty of the walkout was Sony's "Angels & Demons," a prequel to the $757-million-grossing "The Da Vinci Code" that was once again adapted from a Dan Brown novel by Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman (for a reported $3.8 million). Director Ron Howard was to begin filming the thriller with returning star Tom Hanks in February for a blockbuster Christmas 2008 release. (The city of Rome had cleared shooting permits just days before the WGA contract expired.) Sony has now pushed the release date to a tentative May 2009.

Last fall, the Weinstein Co. was pulling together the acting leads for "Nine," a movie musical to be directed by Rob Marshall ("Chicago"). Oscar-nominated writer Michael Tolkin ("The Player") had been working on the adaptation of the Broadway show based on an Italian play inspired by Federico Fellini's classic film "8 1/2 ," until writer-director Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient") came on board just before the strike to try to quickly whip the script into shape. Filming was supposed to begin in March but is now tentatively scheduled for September.

Warner Bros. delayed "Shantaram," a long-gestating drama set in India's criminal underworld that director Mira Nair ("The Namesake") was to start filming in February with the ubiquitous Johnny Depp. Oscar-winning writer Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump") had been reshaping his adaptation of the Gregory David Roberts novel when the strike hit.

"Everybody is hoping to get back to work on it in the fall (after monsoons and all)," Roth e-mailed. "I do know Johnny and the parties that be are still committed to make the movie and obviously make it as unique a film as is possible."

United Artists' "Pinkville" was scheduled to begin principal photography in December when it became another victim of the strike. Mikko Alanne wrote the controversial Oliver Stone-directed drama about the investigation into the My Lai massacre that took place during the Vietnam War.

Stone, an Oscar-winning screenwriter ("Midnight Express") and WGA member, would have been hamstrung by his inability to make script changes on the fly during shooting in Thailand. Unlike the other delayed films, "Pinkville's" politically charged material may not get redeployed post-strike.

Should the strike drag on through the spring, the dwindling supply of ready-to-shoot screenplays could wreak havoc on the studios' plans for their summer 2009 blockbuster and franchise films.

And a continuing absence of working writers and new material might well force studios into the precarious position of moving forward with imperfect screenplays just to make sure their slates are filled.

On the other hand, one positive outcome may be that wonderful storytellers grown stale on studio assignments and high-paying rewrite gigs will finally return to crafting the truly original spec screenplays that forged their early reputations.

Either way, the longer the strike goes on, the more likely it is that the 2009 Movie Sneaks package will be printed on a single page.

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Fernandez writes the weekly Scriptland column, a feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. E-mail fernandez_jay@hotmail.com.

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