Lloyd-Webber in £70m film studio deal

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is negotiating a multi-million-pound deal to open a film studio in Britain dedicated to producing musicals.

The impresario said Polygram had offered to put up £67m to fund the new studio, which would immediately become the financial and artistic leader in the British film industry.

Sir Andrew told the Independent yesterday that negotiations between his Really Useful Company and the film and entertainments multinational were continuing and he was extremely interested in the idea. He wanted, he said, to make a film of his current west end and Broadway success, Sunset Boulevard. He also noted that the rights to Evita, which is continually talked about in America as a film project, return to him and Tim Rice in 2000.

Even before the Polygram deal is finalised, Sir Andrew will be embarking on an outlandish film project next year. He has teamed up with Jim Steinman, the rock writer who has written Meatloaf's hits, including the 28-million-selling Bat Out Of Hell. They have written a score for Whistle Down The Wind, a book and Sixties film starring Hayley Mills and Alan Bates, changing the setting from Britain to Louisiana and made the story (about a group of children who think an escaped convict hiding in their barn is Jesus) "more dangerous".

Sir Andrew said he hoped film idol Johnny Depp would play the convict. And he and Steinman want Kirsten Dunst, who is starring in Interview With a Vampire, to play the Hayley Mills part. The film, a British production made by the Really Useful Group, would cost under £10m, Sir Andrew said. He added that he wanted to show that a musical film could be relatively inexpensive.

Steinman said the score was "symphonic rock'n'roll" and would feature one of the longest song titles in history: One Night On A Motor Cycle (A kiss is a terrible thing to waste).

The screenplay has been newly written by Christine Knup who wrote the movie Nine And A Half Weeks.

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