'Rome' co-creator preps series set in ancient Egypt

John Milius, co-creator and exec producer on HBO-BBC’s “Rome,” has signed on as showrunner on another historic blockbuster, ancient Egypt epic “Pharaoh.”

Conceived as a 12-part series, “Pharaoh” is set up at two Paris-based companies, Amana Creative, the new production house of former StudioCanal CEO Frederic Sichler, and Tetra Media. Pay TV giant Canal Plus Group will co-develop “Pharaoh.”

Milius, the screenwriter of “Apocalypse Now” and scribe-director of “Conan the Barbarian” and “Red Dawn,” has written a 15-page treatment for “Pharaoh” and is now writing the first episode, which he will direct. He will supervise a team of screenwriters for the rest of the project.

He aims to flesh-out the first season narrative after a visit to Egypt in May, he told Weekly Variety.

Sichler says major European TV companies and pubcaster Egypt Radio and Television Union are interested in backing “Pharaoh.”

“If ERTU comes in, it would be the first time it has co-produced a series of this magnitude,” he adds.

Sichler will be at this week’s Mip TV mart in Cannes to advance negotiations.

Like “Rome,” “Pharaoh” homes in on one dramatic period: the New Kingdom that began in 1479 B.C. with the reign of Queen Hatshepsut, a rare female pharaoh, who ruled as regent until her nephew, Thutmosis III, took the throne.

The mighty warrior pharaoh created the largest empire ancient Egypt had ever seen, an international super-power sprawling from southern Syria to northern Sudan.

“Having John Milius on board was decisive for us. He has what it takes to create a modern series about the fascinating life of the pharaohs,” says Canal Plus fiction director Fabrice de la Patelliere,

“Pharaoh,” like “Rome,” will mix “characters at all levels of life,” says Milius, historical and fictional figures, common people with which audiences can identify.

One will be a tomb-robber, Milius suggests, others a priest, soldiers and merchants, says Sichler.

Milius believes today’s auds will identify with much of the ancient Egyptian lifestyle.

“Egyptian civilization is remakarbly modern. Egypt’s dealings with other powers, the Syrians, Metannites, Babylonian civilizations, are strikingly contemporary in their arguments, their distrust for each other, their building up of separate cultures,” he says.

“Pharaoh” stands apart in some ways from “Rome,” however.

“What’s important in Egypt compared to Rome is the mysticism, the relationship to death, mummification, to life after death,” says Sichler.

Another difference is financing. In an initial phase, says Sichler, the partners will work on tying down European co-producers and a Middle East partner, then look for a strong U.S. partner.

Looking to Europe also underscores the larger international ambitions of key European players.

“This project is in line with our brief to make series of international reach,” says De La Patelliere.

Canal Plus Group is already co-producing 12-hour miniseries “The Borgias,” penned by Tom Fontana.

For Milius, “Pharaoh” allows him to work with writers and directors from around the world.

“Cinema and narrative fiction are widening out again as they haven’t probably since the 1960s, largely due to the Internet and technology but also the breakdown of leadership from Hollywood,” Milius says.

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