'Conan' unsheathed at Lionsgate

Dirk Blackman, Howard McCain to write new script

Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain are trying to corner the market on sword-swinging fantasy adventures.

The pair have been hired to write a new script for "Conan," as in the barbarian, for Lionsgate. And the writing team's action-adventure screenplay "Amazon," an epic about female warriors to which Scarlett Johansson has been attached, is sailing out of turnaround toward Lionsgate as well, with Neal Moritz and his Original Film banner coming on to produce once the deal is completed.

Director searches are under way for both.

Paradox Entertainment president and CEO Fredrik Malmberg is producing the "Conan" feature along with Boaz Davidson, Joe Gatta and Avi Lerner of Millennium Films. Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer ("Sahara") have already been working on a separate, parallel script for the film, a potential resurrection of the classic warrior created by Robert E. Howard in dozens of pulp stories published in the 1930s. In 1982, Oliver Stone and John Milius wrote a bloody adaptation, which Milius also directed, that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"We all want this movie to go into production as soon as possible," Malmberg said. "It's a fast-tracked movie. Lionsgate felt the process was enhanced by having a second team come in and do a script."

Much like with "Batman Begins," the studio hopes to redraw the Conan feature universe to produce a new, post-millennial franchise. So rather than remake the Schwarzenegger bloodfest, the writers have gone back to Howard's original stories to create a $100 million R-rated origin film, the largest production to date for Lionsgate and Millennium.

"Fans expect (these types of movies) to be more true to the source material," Malmberg said. "There's no reason there couldn't be a Conan movie every two years. He's almost like Batman: He's a dark hero. He's a hard hero. He has to be badass, but we also have to like him."

Blackman and McCain, repped by ICM and Circle of Confusion, recently co-wrote the science fiction actioner "Outlander," which McCain also directed. It screens Friday at the Locarno film festival. They also are credited writers on "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans," due out next year.