Turn to del Toro for terror<sub18></sub18>

He'll guide Muschietti sibs as they turn 'Mama' short into pic for Uni

Universal will develop the horror tale "Mama," a debut project from a pair of young filmmakers, with Guillermo del Toro negotiating to produce the film and mentor the filmmakers.

Andy and Barbara Muschietti are writing the English-language script based on their Spanish- language short "Mama," with Andy directing and Barbara producing. Del Toro would be hands-on with the pic similar to his work with Juan Antonio Bayona on his "The Orphanage."

The Muschietti siblings — Andy has made a name as a commercials director, and Barbara runs the pair's Madrid-based production company Toma Films — created a stir with the short at a number of European festivals.

Paradigm's Marc Helwig signed them in February and helped broker the deal with Universal. Del Toro learned about the project when a Hollywood-based development exec, Russell Ackerman, spotted the film and called his attention to it. That accelerated the film at Universal, where the filmmaker's Cha Cha Cha deal is housed (though this film is separate from Cha Cha Cha). Ackerman would come on as co- producer, with Brian Witten and Gary Ungar exec producing.

Del Toro is setting up camp in New Zealand ahead of the shoot of "The Hobbit," which is set to begin next year. The possibility exists that "Mama," expected to be effects-heavy, could shoot in New Zealand to allow del Toro to be more involved. Scott Bernstein is overseeing for the studio.

The Muschiettis are working on the script, and production could begin this year. The plot is under wraps, but the short revolves around two girls on the run from a ghostly woman who appears to be their mother.

Those familiar with the pitch say the film, like del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," will emphasize emotional and horror elements. (partialdiff)