Sony sings for Michael Jackson

Studio close to film deal on King of Pop

Sony Pictures is close to a deal to make a feature film on Michael Jackson drawing on the 80 hours of rehearsal footage filmed for concerts Jackson was preparing to perform in London.

The studio is expected to pay north of $50 million for worldwide rights to AEG Entertainment, which owns the footage and showed it to studios last week.

The film will feature at least three videos, including an alternative version of Jackson’s “Thriller,” which were shot to be interstitial programming during the London concerts. The footage was meant to play in 3-D, but it’s unclear as yet whether the feature film will present it that way.

“High School Musical” director Kenny Ortega, who shot the rehearsal footage, is expected to direct the feature, and sources said he’s already beginning to put together the footage so Sony can release the film before year’s end. Ortega has the time, as he won’t begin directing the Paramount remake of “Footloose” until next March, when star Chace Crawford is on hiatus from “Gossip Girl.”

Several studios were impressed when shown the footage by AEG last week. Fox, Universal, Paramount and Relativity likely would have met AEG’s asking price but knew that Sony Pictures had clear first position because sibling company Sony Music Entertainment owns music publishing rights to Jackson’s songs.

The posthumous outpouring of admiration for Jackson has been remarkable, but the true circumstances of his death have yet to be revealed in toxicology reports, making the investment a potentially risky venture; there’s no way to gauge how the film is likely to perform in theaters, and AEG’s asking price is high.

AEG is also selling TV and video rights to the Aug. 29 tribute concert scheduled in London on Jackson’s birthday. Justin Timberlake, Janet Jackson and others will perform the song list that Jackson planned, accompanied by the band that rehearsed with the late singer.

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