So this was a hot book but it’s been a cold movie in development at Paramount. Two years ago, Brad Pitt wanted the project for his Plan B production company. Then a year ago, Julia Roberts attached herself to play the lead and develop it. And most recently, Ryan Murphy came on to direct. But now Paramount is about to put the project in turnaround, and Sony is about to pick it up. Some are telling me that Paramount will chalk up another Twilight turnaround humiliation. Others say that Sony will overspend for a chick flick that should cost only $25M to make, is currently budgeted at $60M, sends out 15% of the gross off the top, would have to earn $150M worldwide to make money, and ends up with a 1-quadrant movie starring a has-been actress helmed by a mediocre director. How I love it when Hollywood studios bitchslap one another!

The book by Elizabeth Gilbert is subtitled, “One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” and the content is just that. One big fan of the soul-searching travelogue tells me that Paramount “didn’t get it. It’s a girls’ book,  and they didn’t know what it was. All of them, from Brad Grey to John Lesher, looked at it and said no.”  Another tells me, “They’re nuts. They’re only making guy movies, and I don’t know how they can ignore this best-seller after the success of Mamma Mia and Sex And The City.”

On the hand, sources tell me that after the exec championing the project, Pam Abdy, left the studio, Paramount bigwigs decided that the pic should only cost $25M but was too hard to make cheaply because it takes place all over the world and therefore the budget would balloon to $60M with 15% of the gross out the door. As a source put it to me, “The concern is it’s a 1-quadrant movie that would have to make over $150M worldwide to make money. So my question for you is: when was the last time a Julia Roberts-lead movie grossed that much? (And Oceans Eleven doesn’t count.)”

The fact is that Paramount bought the book initially because of its relationship with Pitt’s Plan B, which felt that because Eat Pray Love had sold well in America that a movie would have built-in appeal. Even so, I heard Paramount’s marketing department doesn’t believe this is another Momma Mia or Sex And The City and turned thumbs-down on its commercial viability. And there’s thinking that 41-year-old Julia Roberts is too old to play the 31-year-old lead. Plus, the biggest hesitation was Ryan Murphy, who failed to make the transition from TV showrunner to film director with the stillborn Running With Scissors. “Had some genius filmmaker been doing it, then Lesher would take the leap of faith and hope for alchemy on an untraditional real-life narrative,” my source explains.

Still, putting any film in turnaround is a risk. Look at Twilight. “You never want to put anything in turnaround because it’s ‘schmuck insurance’ so you don’t give anyone the opportunity to make yourself look bad. But Lesher saw that Brad Pitt was very passionate about it. So he’s doing a good thing and being a friend to the project and letting Sony have it.”

It was Julia Roberts who personally brought the project to Amy Pascal. And I hear Sony still is worried that Paramount may want to keep it, especially because of this publicity. But I also hear Paramount’s mind is made up. Now we all wait to see who gets the last laugh.