Visual Bible pacts for pic adaptations

$400 mil deal covers Old, New Testaments

NEW YORK — The Bible is on a roll, racking up huge Nielsens this past spring with a four-hour dramatized “Jesus” miniseries on CBS and the ABC docu “Peter Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus,” while Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, laces his speeches with biblical references as he tours the country on his pilgrimage to become vice president.

Toronto-based Visual Bible Intl. hopes to join in the bonanza, announcing Wednesday that it has signed an exclusive deal with the American Bible Society to produce film versions of ABS’ copyrighted Good News Bible and Contemporary English Version Bible on videocassettes and DVDs at a proposed cost of more than $400 million. Deal covers all 66 books of the Old and New Testaments.

Visual Bible has already filmed two of the books, the 1995 “Matthew,” starring the late Richard Kiley, and “Acts of the Apostles,” with Dean Jones, Jennifer O’Neill and James Brolin, both of which are on video and DVD. Retail price for a boxed set of four cassettes is $99. Company said it has sold 560,000 units of the set “through a limited number of Christian retail outlets.”

Apostle pic pack

John Hamilton, CEO of Visual Bible, said the director Jakob Deboeris now in Morocco scouting locations for the next three films: “Mark,” “Luke” and “John,” which he will film simultaneously. Company has signed Mark Lasoff, the digital-effects supervisor on “Titanic” and “Apollo 13,” to supervise the f/x on the three pictures. Stewart House Publishing, a division of Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart, will distribute the cassettes and DVDs.

The financing of the movies is coming from the Canadian investment underwriters Dominick and Dominick and the debt-financing company Trinity Capital, said Bess Fotopoulos, president and chief operating officer of Visual Bible. She’s still negotiating with an unidentified Canadian bank for additional production dollars.

Asked about a competing setup called Film the Bible, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., based company that said last month that it plans to shoot all 66 books of the Bible as full-length features, Hamilton said, “I’d love to talk to them.” But then he added, “While Film the Bible is attempting it, we’re actually producing the movies.”

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