valentines_day_poster_02Little wonder Warner Bros’ New Line is in love with the Garry Marshall-directed Valentine’s Day because of its formula of cramming more than a dozen stars into a film and keeping the budget below $50 million. Now I’m told there’s a sort-of-sequel underway. Valentine’s Day scribe Katherine Fugate has turned in a draft of New Year’s Eve, which Toby Emmerich and Richard Brener are reading this weekend, with Warner Bros bosses to follow shortly.

I’m told that, during production, New Line execs Sam Brown and Michael Disco started brainstorming with producers Mike Karz, Wayne Allan Rice and Josie Rosen as well as writer Fugate on how to use the ensemble formula again. New Year’s Eve was the logical choice. They agreed the holiday possibilities are endless. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the franchise in the future is focused not just around major ones but even secondary ones like Arbor Day.)

Execs will enlist Valentine’s Day director Garry Marshall on the new pic, as well as bring in some VDay characters for continuity. Those actors will segue into the new New York-set relationship ensemble story that uses December 31st and a little after midnight on January 1st as the plotline’s ticking clock. So these days, when most films can barely afford even 2 major stars, how did Valentine’s Day keep down costs for the cast including Julia Roberts, Jessica Alba, Bradley Cooper, Anne Hathaway, Patrick Dempsey, Taylor Lautner, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Topher Grace, Ashton Kutcher, Queen Latifah and Emma Roberts? I’ve learned most worked for discounted quotes and some back-end because they were able to film their parts quickly and then leave for other projects. All that talent makes for an impressive trailer (the one-sheet is so crowded that only thumbnails of the stars in the shape of a heart was possible), giving the illusion that the stars are in the pic from start to finish.

If Valentine’s Day opens the way Dear John did, the studio will be thrilled. And Toby Emmerich will be on a romance roll. The Warner Bros-based shingle gets 7.5% of Dear John’s first-dollar gross receipts, the reward for Emmerich having bought the Nicholas Sparks novel first and then completely packaging the love story (except he hired Miguel Arteta to direct). But his former bosses, Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, didn’t like the project as much as he did. That’s when Dear John was snapped up by Ryan Kavanaugh’s  Relativity and distributed by Sony’s Screen Gems.