Newsbites: A.D.! Ben-Hur! Wilde Salomé!

burnett-downey-unitedartists1. First Mark Burnett and Roma Downey partnered with MGM (and Paramount) on producing the next big-screen version of Ben-Hur. Now the trades are reporting that MGM has bought a majority stake in the production companies run by Burnett and Downey — and, thus, a majority stake in their Bible-themed projects (as well as Burnett’s reality-TV shows, etc.).

Along the way, the trades mention that Burnett and Downey have started principal photography on A.D., their follow-up to The Bible, and that they could not be reached for additional comment because they are currently working on A.D. overseas.

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Ben-Hur remake gets a rewrite, starts shooting in spring

From one 19th-century story about a free man forced into slavery to another…

Deadline reports that John Ridley, the screenwriter behind the much-buzzed Oscars contender 12 Years a Slave, has been hired to do a rewrite on MGM’s latest version of Ben-Hur, the 1880 Lew Wallace novel that the studio previously adapted in 1925 and 1959.

With Kazakh action specialist Timur Bekmambetov lined up to direct, Deadline says the studio plans to start casting “soon” and to start production “in the spring.”

Deadline also says the existing script is different from the 1959 film “in that it will tell the parallel tale of Jesus Christ, with whom Ben-Hur has several encounters which moves him to become a believer in the Messiah, and which culminates in Christ being sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate.” Those things weren’t entirely absent from the 1959 film, but it certainly downplayed them compared to the novel and the 1925 film.

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