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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS
November 11

Entertainment News November 11 - TOP 3 Stories for Sunday

ALSO ON SITE

WILL PRODUCERS TURN TO U.K. WRITERS?

Far from the WGA picket lines, there's a place where top-tier screenwriters are, in theory, still free to work on movies backed by the U.S. studios.

It's called the United Kingdom.

The WGA has no jurisdiction here. But the question worrying producers, agents and studio execs in London is whether local writers can (or should) work on projects involving U.S. partners.

The subject is so delicate that no one will discuss it on the record. Indeed, some would prefer that the subject not be raised publicly at all for fear of drawing the WGA's attention to the gray area in which the U.K. biz operates.

The Writers Guild of Great Britain has pitched in with its own opinion. "We are contacting the major U.K. broadcasters and producers, and the U.K. Film Council, asking them not to dump U.K. material into the U.S. market and not to dress up American projects to look as though they are British," said general secretary Bernie Corbett. "Strike-breaking would at best be a short-term payday but would have a devastating long-term effect on a writer's U.S. career."

That depends, of course, on the attitude of WGA. As one London-based studio exec said, "It's still legitimate for us to be working on non-WGA contracts if the writer is rendering services in the U.K. But some people are freaking out that if you cross a picket line, and you are not WGA already, it may affect your ability to join the union in future."

Brit-based productions are almost always non-WGA -- even the biggest ones developed by the U.K. arms of the studios or produced by companies with studio relationships such as Working Title (Universal), DNA Films (Fox), Marv Films (Sony) and Heyday Films (Warner). None is a WGA signatory, and some have their own independent local financing, so technically they shouldn't be directly affected by the strike, even if they are working on projects written by British members of the WGA.

The London grapevine is abuzz with gossip that marquee American producers have been scouting for non-WGA writers for film or TV projects they would funnel through British production companies. Hollywood's majors have lodged discreet inquiries with agents and lawyers about the availability of their clients.

"It could be an extraordinary opportunity for British writers to get a shot at big studio projects that they otherwise would never get a shot at," confided one U.K.-based studio exec.

'GANSTER' STILL ON TOP OF BOX OFFICE

Universal-Imagine’s “American Gangster” bumped off the competition in its second Friday, looting $7.2 million from 3,059 theaters, repping a 54% drop.

To date, the Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe topliner has collected $63.6 million and is currently grossing ahead of both actors’ respective top titles at the domestic box office: “Gangster” is pacing a boffo 97% ahead of Washington’s “Remember the Titans” through its first eight days (final B.O. $116 million) and 13% ahead of Crowe’s 2000 summer hit “Gladiator” (final B.O. $188 million) over the same frame.

DreamWorks Animation’s “Bee Movie” continued to buzz in second place yesterday, collecting $6.3 million from 3,944 hives, down a respectable 39%, bringing its eight-day cume to $52.5 million.

While “Gangster” outstripped “Bee” for the top spot at the box office last weekend, the question remains today whether “Bee’s” moppet matinees will generate more coin than “Gangster’s” Saturday night couples.

Warner Bros.’ PG-rated Christmas comedy “Fred Claus” about Santa’s derelict brother, placed third Friday, bagging $5.2 million from 3,603 sleighs. Pic’s haul is in sync with the $5.3 million opening day of Disney’s G-rated “The Santa Claus 3: The Escape Claus” which wound up bowing to $19.5 million last November.

“Lions for Lambs,” the first title under Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner’s reinvented United Artists label, placed fourth with a tame $2.2 million from 2,215 playdates, making it Robert Redford’s third best opening day as a helmer behind 1998’s “The Horse Whisperer” ($4.4 million) and 2000’s “The Legend of Bagger Vance” ($3.9 million) according to Rentrak.

In fifth, Disney’s “Dan in Real Life” romanced $1.8 million off 1,941, repping a 29% decline from last Friday and a cume to date of $26.6 million.

Among Friday’s frosh horror fare, Summit’s “P2” parked in ninth with $661,000 from 2,131 lots, while After Dark’s “Horrorfest 2” stunned $131,000 from gore aficionados in 323 theaters.

Ethan and Joel Coen’s “No Country for Old Men” was a prime destination for arthouse moviegoers, raking in $352,000 from 28 engagements – the highest limited opening day for a Coen Brothers film in under 1,000 runs, besting “Fargo’s” first day coin of $189,000 from 36 theaters in March 1996.

Friday’s Bollywood entries also banked some solid rupees with Eros Entertainment’s ‘70s Hindi homage “Om Shanti Om” entertaining $386,000 off 114 venues and Sony’s first Indian tuner “Saawariya” grossing $139,000 from 85 theaters.

AUTHOR NORMAN MAILER DEAD AT 84

Norman Mailer, the macho prince of American letters who for decades reigned as the country's literary conscience and provocateur with such books as "The Naked and the Dead" and "The Executioner's Song" died Saturday, his literary executor said. He was 84.

Mailer died of acute renal failure at Mount Sinai Hospital, said J. Michael Lennon, who is also the author's biographer.

From his classic debut novel to such masterworks of literary journalism as "The Armies of the Night," the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner always got credit for insight, passion and originality.

Some of his works were highly praised, some panned, but none was pronounced the Great American Novel that seemed to be his life quest from the time he soared to the top as a brash 25-year-old "enfant terrible."

Mailer built and nurtured an image over the years as pugnacious, street-wise and high-living. He drank, fought, smoked pot, married six times and stabbed his second wife, almost fatally, during a drunken party.

He had nine children, made a quixotic bid to become mayor of New York, produced five forgettable films, dabbled in journalism, flew gliders, challenged professional boxers, was banned from a Manhattan YWHA for reciting obscene poetry, feuded publicly with writer Gore Vidal and crusaded against women's liberation.

But as Newsweek reviewer Raymond Sokolov said in 1968, "In the end, it is the writing that will count."

Mailer, he wrote, possessed "a superb natural style that does not crack under the pressures he puts upon it, a talent for narrative and characters with real blood streams and nervous systems, a great openness and eagerness for experience, a sense of urgency about the need to test thought and character in the crucible of a difficult era."

Norman Mailer was born Jan. 31, 1923, in Long Branch, N.J. His father, Isaac, a South Africa-born accountant, and mother, Fanny, who ran a housekeeping and nursing agency, soon moved to Brooklyn - later described by Mailer as "the most secure Jewish environment in America."

Mailer earned an engineering science degree in 1943 from Harvard University, where he decided to become a writer, and was soon drafted into the Army. Sent to the Philippines as an infantryman, he saw enough of army life and combat to provide a basis for his first book, "The Naked and the Dead," published in 1948 while he was a postgraduate student in Paris on the GI Bill of Rights.

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