July 1998
7th Patrick's new projects
Patrick Stewart, who just wrapped his third big screen stint steering the Starship Enterprise in “Star Trek: Insurrection,” is moving toward warp speed in a new enterprise: producing.

Stewart's Paramount based Flying Freehold Prods. has set up two books for films he'll star in, and he'll team with “Moby Dick” producer Robert Halmi Sr. for a miniseries adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

Stewart, who has performed a one man holiday stage version of the Dickens classic for years, has long resisted offers to film it. But after playing Ahab for Halmi, Stewart embraced the Hallmark Entertainment chairman's offer to do a full scale version, with Stewart playing Scrooge and possibly narrating. Peter Barnes, who wrote “Enchanted April” and “The Ruling Class,” is about to turn in a script, at which time they'll make a network deal, with the goal of holiday 1999 airing.

“I wouldn't want to commit Robert Halmi to the $20 million spent on ‘Moby Dick,’ but my hope is we would be able to realize the early Victorian London with the intensity, mood and climate that Dickens visualized,” said Stewart.

Stewart steers Flying Freehold with president Wendy Neuss, former producer of “Star Trek:Voyager” and co-producer of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Their first project at Paramount is the Noah Hawley novel “A Conspiracy of Tall Men,” which Par recently bought as a vehicle for Stewart. He'll star as a professor who is expert at conspiracy theories; when his wife is reported killed in a plane finds out (with the help of some unusual conspiracy buff pals) that it's part of a government plot. For Stewart, the appeal is a character who's the opposite of his take charge Captain Picard persona.

Stewart was given a production shingle by Paramount chairman Sherry Lansing as part of a $12 million deal he signed last year to top line his third “Trek” film. While he hopes to feed the studio's mainstream diet, Stewart also wants to work with first time writers and tackle risky fare.

“Writers are the cornerstone and substance of our plans,” said Stewart. “My career has been built around a writer dominant philosophy, and that is how it will be at Flying Freehold,” saying they are looking for scripts “not exclusively for me as an actor, but also as director and producer.”

Squarely in the risky fare category is “The Kommandant’s Mistress,” a first novel by Shari Szeman about a relationship between the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp and a Jewish inmate. It's told partly from the villain's viewpoint, making it unusual among Holocaust projects which depict atrocities, but generally don't explore what motivates the perpetrators to commit them.

“It takes us profoundly inside the heart, mind and life of the commandant,” said Stewart, who'll play the camp leader. “It could be in any of the worst camps and would look at how he came to be there, what he had to do and who he had to become in the Nazi party to achieve that position. His life is examined through the eyes of a Jewish woman in the camp who becomes his mistress and who saves the life of many in the camp. It in no way apologizes or condones his actions, but the writing was so strong that I gambled my own money on it, even though I am aware it will be a difficult sell.” Stewart expects to make the film independently.

Flying Freehold is also developing a telepic about Alliance for Concerned Men, a group of former felons that responded to the beating of a 12 year old child at the hands of D.C. teens by brokering a truce between the rival gangs responsible for bloodshed in their crime-ravaged neighbourhoods.

It's a passion project for Neuss, who began her career developing original programming for HBO, Showtime and PBS. The package is being handled by Carrie Stein of ICM, where Steve Dontanville makes Stewart's deals.