Sci-fi bug bites Proyas and Phoenix

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The sci-fi saturation of the film biz shows little sign of letup. The latest project is a Phoenix Pictures feature based on a Robert Heinlein novela and written and directed by Alex Proyas.

Phoenix principals Mike Medavoy, Arnie Messer and Brad Fischer will produce the adaptation of "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag," which they describe as a complex psychological thriller with plenty of action as well as some love interest. A title change is likely.

The deal with the "I, Robot" helmer closed several weeks ago, and the project will likely shoot after the Greek-born, Aussie-raised Proyas finishes "Knowing" for Summit.

Vince Gerardis, who reps the Heinlein estate and brought the project to Fischer, will executive produce along with Ralph Vicinanza. The budget will be in the $40 million-$50 million range.

Published in 1942, the offbeat tale centers on a man who becomes disturbed when he realizes he cannot account for his activities during the day, or even what he does for a living. He divulges his problem to the husband-and-wife partners of a private detective agency, and their investigation leads to a series of revelations they could never have fathomed.

"I read this story as a kid, and it really stayed with me," Proyas said. "It's part of my creative DNA."

Phoenix co-president of production Fischer described the project as "cool and original," and pointed out that Heinlein, who wrote about 30 novels and twice as many short stories, still is a pre-eminent icon of sci-fi literature 20 years after his death. His "Starship Troopers" was made into a 1997 movie that grossed $120 million worldwide, and "Stranger in a Strange Land" became a counterculture classic tome in the '60s.

The deal marks another example, following David Fincher's "Zodiac," of Phoenix's strategy of internally developing and packaging big films with important directors. Next up for the company is Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island," which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and is in postproduction for Paramount; the Mikael Hafstrom-helmer John Cusack starrer "Shanghai" for the Weinstein Co.; and a revamped "Robocop" for MGM, which Darren Aronofsky will direct from David Self's script.

Proyas is in post on "Knowing" and is attached to direct the Universal project "Dracula Year Zero." Presumably, the Heinlein project will lens in 2010. (partialdiff)
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