every time there’s talk of a strike, it means Michael Mann can get $120 million for a 1930’s Hollywood noir epic – set on studio backlots and, if all goes according to plan, shot almost exclusively on soundstages! – and Peter Jackson can take (as two sources are now telling me) Warner Brothers for $90 million to make what folks who’ve read the book claim is a small-scale emotional drama, then, by all means, I hope the DGA, the WGA and SAG threaten work-stoppages weekly. Those two projects alone make up for the Men in Black II (which was rushed into production in 2001 to beat out a SAG strike that never occured). Even if the finished products are misses, I’d rather expensive failures from talented filmmakers than $120 million superhero movies from Tim Story.

As discussed earlier this week, Peter Jackson’s spec of The Lovely Bones was sent out to all of the studios this week (save for New Line due to unresolved legal brawling). Seeking a budget of $65 million for his adaptation of Alice Sebold’s well-liked novel about the ghost of a raped-and-murdered young woman who observes her family from heaven, Jackson received a $90 million offer from Warner Brothers that should be sufficient to take the film out of the running. Again, this would seem quite the hefty sum for such a smallish movie, but I just received the screenplay today, and a quick scan indicates that it will rely on some unobtrusive, but fairly seamless f/x work. That stuff doesn’t come cheap. (The script is also stuffed with lots of very particular period detail and a Graham Bonnet music cue, which will cost ‘em a fortune! In all seriousness, the first twenty pages or so are really good!)

I have yet to get my mitts on the John Logan screenplay for that untitled Michael Mann noir, but the premise is an absolute dream. The film will star Leonardo DiCaprio – who’s juggling, like, seventeen potential projects at the moment – as a studio gumshoe trawling the MGM backlot as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz are being shot. That Mann wants to shoot this unnamed epic on soundstages sounds too good to be true, as does the promise of an elaborate shootout at the Sunset Trocadero involving Bugsy Siegel. That he also wants $120 million to pull it off is especially ballsy after the box office failure of last year’s Miami Vice. Still, the thought of Mann immersing himself in 1930s period detail calls to mind his wondrous evocation of 1950s in Crime Story; if we’re on the cusp of getting something like that… oh, god.

New Line has apparently (and expectedly) thrown out a low-ball bid of $100 million for the Mann project, but I’d love to see Warner Brothers swoop this one, too. Mann is eying a start date of February ’08, so there’s time for this to go really right or heartbreakingly wrong. Jackson, on the other hand, wants to commence principal photography on The Lovely Bones this October. As I said, the deal appears to be very close to done; expect an announcement before close of business Friday.