The fate of the film version of Daniel Handler's best-selling Lemony Snicket books, ''A Series of Unfortunate Events,'' is looking as precarious as that of the woefully orphaned Baudelaire siblings. The primary problem: the proposed $100 million budget. Nearly $10 million was saved by moving the shoot from New York City to Wilmington, N.C., but when Paramount demanded another $5 million trim last December, producer Scott Rudin (''The Hours'') left the project and director Barry Sonnenfeld (''Men in Black'') publicly criticized the studio's bottom-line stance.
In January, Sonnenfeld himself exited after DreamWorks agreed to cofinance, with the studio's Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald overseeing production. ''Barry got a little tired of hearing Walter talk about how much Walter had done on ['MIBII'],'' says a Columbia executive. One of Sonnenfeld's CAA reps disputes reports that the director's departure was involuntary: ''It was an honest disagreement over budget.'' (Parkes declined to comment.)
Jim Carrey, who is set to star as villainous Count Olaf, is now watching from the sidelines. ''Jim took a small [pay] cut on his last film,'' explains a source close to the actor, referring to the upcoming ''Bruce Almighty,'' ''and he didn't feel it was his job to get between the director and the studio.''