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Haggis has Bond’s number -- again

Special to The Times

Paul Haggis, the Oscar-winning writer-director of “Crash” and co-writer of “Casino Royale,” is cementing a reputation for ruthless efficiency and resourcefulness as distinctive as 007’s. Sony has finally lured Haggis back to work on the script for the “Royale” follow-up, temporarily titled “Bond 22,” which is slated for release on Nov. 7, 2008.

Haggis is currently in the editing room finishing up “In the Valley of Elah,” a drama inspired by real events that he wrote and directed about a career officer investigating the disappearance of his soldier son after he returns from the most recent Iraq conflict. He has additional projects lined up as producer, director and/or writer, so the Bond producers must have dangled, shall we say, very seductive creative and financial incentives for him to return to the Bond juggernaut.

Haggis has more than earned whatever he’s being paid to rework the “Bond 22" screenplay by regular Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (“The World Is Not Enough,” “Die Another Day”). His rewrite of Purvis and Wade’s “Casino Royale” script helped to revitalize the aging franchise and give it the edgier credibility it needed to hook a new generation of fans and score the franchise’s biggest box office -- $588 million worldwide. (Don’t cry for Purvis and Wade; they keep getting the Bond assignments and they’re writing the new “Barbarella” screenplay that Robert Rodriguez just signed on to direct for Universal on Monday.)

Last year, director Roger Michell (“Venus”) and screenwriter Ted Griffin (“Ocean’s Eleven”) were briefly attached to the “Bond 22" project, and Haggis had turned down the offer to helm it. Now, there are whisperings that four directors are in the final running for the gig -- action vets Tony Scott (“Deja Vu,” “Spy Game”), Jonathan Mostow (“Breakdown,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”), Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball,” “Stranger Than Fiction”) and Alex Proyas (“I, Robot,” “Dark City”).

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After 20 years in television, writing for shows such as “The Facts of Life,” “thirtysomething” and “L.A. Law,” Haggis jumped from the TV gravy train to become the first screenwriter to write successive best picture winners, “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash.” He’s pushing hard to deliver his cut of “Elah,” which bows in September as a potential Oscar magnet, to Warner Bros. as he prepares to careen back into Bond’s world, which is on its own insistent timeline (the producers had to bump the release date once already).

But, like the famed British superspy, Haggis is unlikely to buckle under the pressure -- even the heart attack he suffered during the “Crash” shoot slowed him down for only two weeks. In any case, it’s nothing some well-shaken martinis and exotic locales wouldn’t cure.

Gay-themed films hard to get made

Sometimes for writers there’s nothing more cathartic and galvanizing than gathering together and bonding over your stories of dismay and affront. Last week, the Writers Guild’s Gay & Lesbian Writers Committee presented just that communal bittersweet opportunity. Its “Gay but Not Forgotten” panel highlighted the detailed anecdotes of eight writers, novelists and producers who have -- in some cases for more than 30 years -- tried to get widely popular, high-profile gay-themed projects produced, with huge stars attached, only to fail repeatedly.

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“It’s like a group therapy session in here,” sighed producer Daniel Sladek (“Tale of the Mummy”), a panelist, after hearing several of these frustrating narratives.

The panel included novelist Patricia Nell Warren (“The Front Runner”), former San Francisco 49er David Kopay (“The David Kopay Story”), novelist and TV writer Peter Lefcourt (“Scarecrow and Mrs. King”), UCLA professor, playwright and screenwriter Adrienne Parks and producer Howard Rosenman (“The Celluloid Closet,” “The Family Man”).

“These are people who are trying to break the mold but are just being stopped,” said committee Chairman Gary Goldstein (“If You Only Knew”) after the event. “It’s about getting some attention for these projects that are really important, finding out what stops them from being made, and also giving writers more perspective.”

Lefcourt’s standout 1992 novel “The Dreyfus Affair” won wide acclaim for its story of two baseball teammates who fall in love and get kicked out of the sport. Over the last 15 years, it has attracted many studios (Disney, Fox 2000), filmmakers (Jodie Foster, Barbra Streisand) and actors. New Line was set to make it in the late ‘90s for $33 million with Ben Affleck and Don Cheadle starring and Betty Thomas (“Private Parts”) directing from a screenplay by Howard Michael Gould (“Mr. 3000") -- until a studio chief whispered in one of the actors’ ears that playing a gay lead would kill his career.

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Panelists and audience members also pointed the finger at gay decision-makers in the industry who they claim are too fainthearted to back these projects. One audience member admitted that his reps tell him to avoid taking his projects to gay producers and executives; an endorsement from a straight exec was essential to proving its broad appeal.

These discussions are also happening in the context of the Guild’s latest annual report on diversity (compiling data from 2005). Disparities in both employment and wage figures across film and TV for female and minority writers almost universally stayed the same or worsened, though gay writers seem to be making strides in television recently. (The one piece of data that bucked cliche was that older writers -- in their 40s (gasp!) -- are taking many of the jobs and making the most money.)

Scriptland is a weekly feature on the work and professional lives of screenwriters. Please e-mail any tips or comments to fernandez_jay@hotmail.com.


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