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Rome’s Cinecitta Studios Lures ‘Ben Hur’ Redo And Other Hollywood Pics

24th James Bond Film and Ben Stiller-directed "Zoolander 2" among other pics set to shoot in Rome

ROME – Rome’s Cinecitta Studios is boasting a burst of biz prompted by tax incentives which are luring back Hollywood majors, including Paramount and MGM with their “Ben Hur” remake more than five decades after the Charlton Heston original shot at the famed facilities.

A portion of the upcoming 24th James Bond film is also among high-profile pics scheduled to shoot in Rome early next year.

Cameras are set to roll at Cinecitta starting in February 2015 on MGM and Paramount’s “Ben Hur” redo, to be helmed by Timur Bekmambetov with Jack Huston in the title role, according to a Cinecitta statement. Production designer Naomi Shohan will be reconstructing pre-Roman empire Jerusalem on the Cinecitta backlot for a planned four-month shoot. Toby Kebbell is set for the role of Messala and Morgan Freeman is also attached. The script was co-written by Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave” scribe John Ridley and Keith Clarke, who sold the original spec to MGM.

MGM’s 24th James Bond film is instead expected in Rome between February and March 2015 with reported plans for high-speed car chases down the Eternal City’s narrow cobble-lines streets, and Bond parachuting down onto the ancient Ponte Sisto bridge on the Tiber.

Cinecitta also says Paramount’s “Zoolander 2” is prepping to shoot on its historic backlot next year. Penelope Cruz has reportedly joined the cast of the buzz comedy alongside Ben Stiller who will also direct from a Justin Theroux script. Stiller has been in Rome scouting locations and going to parties including a bash thrown by Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox for its Sky Arte channel.

There are two U.S. pics currently at Cinecitta. One is “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” based on Anne Rice’s eponymous best-selling novel about young Jesus as he comes to discover his real identity. Directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh, who directed and wrote “The Stoning of Soraya M.,” the religious epic is based at Cinecitta and on location in Matera, Italy, where Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” was shot. Focus Features has slotted an Easter 20126 release. The other is U.S. indie thriller “Voice From the Stone,” starring Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) produced Zanuck Independent and Code 39 Films and helmed by first-timer Eric D. Howell.

Until recently the historic studios known as Hollywood on the Tiber in their 1960′s heyday had been languishing, with production levels plummeting since the 1990′s and workers protesting against layoffs.

But the massive 100-acre facility once considered Europe’s largest is now reaping the rewards of generous 25% tax break for foreign film shoots, the cap on which was crucially raised to Euros 10 million ($12.4 million) earlier this year.

“We waited a long time for our incentives to be tailored to the needs of international productions,” said Cinecitta Studios general director Giuseppe Basso. “As soon as this happened some very important projects signed on, confirming that Rome and Italy can still be competitive internationally in a sector that has always been considered strategic,” he enthused.

Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini over the weekend hailed Cinecitta’s “extraordinary comeback” claiming that having the U.S. majors back will bring a windfall of Euros 150 million ($186 million) in investments.

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