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NOSING AROUND : No Lie: Coppola Eyes ‘Pinocchio’

First there was a live-action movie version of the popular cartoon TV series “The Flintstones.” Now there’s a live-action version of a Disney animated classic in the works--"Pinocchio.”

But the master pulling the strings on the latest version of the fairy tale about the puppet-turned-boy is not in the Disney camp. It’s Francis Ford Coppola, the maestro of “The Godfather” trilogy, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and the upcoming Nov. 4 release “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.”

While Coppola’s associates and executives at Columbia Pictures, which would be the film’s likely distributor, are downplaying the immediacy of the project, sources close to the director say it could be his next endeavor. They point to a recent story meeting with writers and an anticipated January start date, with filming in London.

Coppola did not return phone calls. But Fred Fuchs, president of Coppola’s American Zoetrope Studio, insists that the director’s “lifelong dream” to film the fairy tale is only in the embryonic stage at this point. “This is not a picture with a start date or really even in pre-production. But it is true that Francis is working on the story and that there have been creative sessions with writers.”

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To be specific, Coppola called an impromptu meeting with writers Randi Mayem Singer (“Mrs. Doubtfire”), Michael Tolkin (“The Player”), Helen Childress (“Reality Bites”), Ed Solomon (“Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”) and TV writers Lisa Marie Radano and John Ridley the first weekend in June. When the writers were told to show up at the filmmaker’s Los Angeles home the next day, they weren’t told why.

“It was pretty cool, a very spontaneous thing,” said one of the writers. “He wanted people who knew how to write for kids’ roles.” All of the writers were sworn to secrecy and none was reportedly assured of a callback.

Fuchs said it was just another “one of Francis’ brainstorming sessions. He loves this story dearly, always has, but it will be a screenplay he’s writing himself.” At one point, Coppola apparently even considered casting Michael Jackson in the lead role.

Undoubtedly, Coppola will incorporate various adaptations of the fable, the best known of course being Disney’s timeless 1940 animated classic, into his own version. Because Collodi’s fairy tale, first published in 1883, is in the public domain, Disney doesn’t have a say about how the filmmaker portrays the Pinocchio characters unless he makes them look like those in its movie version. Only then would there be trademark infringement, a Disney spokeswoman said.

One Columbia source said the studio was a bit concerned that Coppola’s plans might be swallowed up in a dispute with Warner Bros., which several years ago had expressed interest in doing its own live-action “Pinocchio.” But Fuchs said, “it really didn’t go anywhere. . . . There was no deal with Warner Bros. regarding Francis’ script or this project.”

Fuchs noted there’s a chance the project could be jointly financed by Columbia and another party, possibly a foreign investor. A Columbia source said Coppola’s hoped-for January production start is a fairy tale and that the earliest cameras could begin rolling is the spring.


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