Bill McKay plans $20 million religious drama

Hoping to replicate some of the box office success of “The Passion of the Christ,” indie producer Bill McKay is mounting “The Resurrection of the Christ,” with a 10-week shoot starting in July.

McKay, through his American Trademark shingle, has set an Easter 2011 release, with Samuel Goldwyn Films handling domestic for the $20 million production. Day-and-date international launches will come through an array of distributors.

Scribe Dan Gordan (“The Hurricane,” “Murder in the First”) is penning the screenplay with a focus on the power, greed and ambition of those involved in the crucifixion — Pontius Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas and Judas.

“It’s as much about the key players as it is about Jesus,” McKay said. “We want to bring in the ‘Gladiator’ dimension of the first century against the political milieu of the time.”

Jonas McCord, who helmed Antonio Banderas starrer “The Body,” has been tapped to direct.

Shooting will take place in Israel, Morocco and Europe. McKay asserts that “Resurrection” will remain faithful to Biblical and historical records.

Veteran producer and Filmcrest president J. David Williams, who also serves as exec producer on the film, is heading the investor group for “Resurrection,” consisting mostly of U.K. participants. He told Daily Variety that he’s also assembled another $20 million for P&A.

“We think it’s a very commercial film that’s targeted at an underserved demographic with a lot of crossover potential,” he added.

While head of Providence Entertainment, Williams saw success with religion-themed pic “The Omega Code,” which grossed $12 million a decade ago.

Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” remains an outsize success among religious films with $370 million domestically and another $240 million overseas in 2004. New Line’s “The Nativity Story” grossed a respectable $37 million in 2006; Goldwyn handled distribution of Kirk Cameron’s Sherwood Pictures-produced pic “Fireproof,” which took in $33 million in 2008.

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