Peter Jackson Hits Pay Dirt With “King Kong”

Although eight-figure salaries are not unheard of for stars such as Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson, they are something of a rarity among Hollywood directors. The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson can count himself among the few: Universal Pictures will pay $20 million against 20 percent of the grosses for Jackson to produce, direct and write the remake of the ape actioner King Kong.

According to Variety, Jackson will share the hefty sum with LOTR trilogy scribes Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, with whom Jackson shares writing duties on King Kong. Jackson‘s salary, however, is contingent on his bringing in the film at an agreed-upon budget.

The project will be shot in New Zealand with most of the film’s work done at WETA Digital Ltd., the post-production facility that won 2002’s Oscar for Best Special Effects for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Jackson, who is a native New Zealander, owns one-third of the F/X house.

Only a handful of other filmmakers have reached such lucrative deals, including The Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan, who is receiving eight figures against gross participation to write and direct Buena Vista’s period thriller The Woods, set for release next summer.

Filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis–who directed hits including the dramas Forrest Gump and Cast Away–have drawn more prosperous deals on films, but they typically consist of low upfront fees compensated with higher percentage points in their gross deals.

As recently as 1997, Variety reports Jackson wrote several drafts of a new version of King Kong–his favorite childhood pic. But Universal, which owns the rights to the films, put plans for the remake on hold following Disney’s release of Mighty Joe Young and Sony’s remake of Godzilla in 1998.

King Kong has been filmed twice already; the first in 1933 by directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, starring Fay Wray; and the second time in 1976 by helmer John Guillermin, starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange.

Jackson‘s King Kong is slated for release December 14, 2005.