Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: FilmDistrict is nearing a deal to acquire U.S. rights to Rocketman, the Michael Gracey-directed biographical musical film about Sir Elton John. The script is by Billy Elliot‘s Lee Hall, and Tom Hardy is circling to play the lead role. This film was the talk of Cannes, where it was shopped by UTA, which structured the financing. It was there that UK-based Icon’s production arm AI Film agreed to come aboard to co-finance the film with Rocket Pictures during the Cannes Film Festival. I’m told that FilmDistrict is betting big here, with Peter Schlessel’s distribution company paying around a $10 million minimum guarantee for a guaranteed wide theatrical release and size-able P&A. There is also a generous gross corridor after the film recoups.

The film follows John’s journey from 5-year old musical prodigy who by age 11 won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, to a young man who rebelled against his strict upbringing, wore outrageous costumes and became a global icon who teamed with songwriter Bernie Taupin to sell more records than just about any musical artist of his era. John’s musical catalog is part of the mix, so this is going to be a major film. Steve Hamilton Shaw and David Furnish are producing the project along with Lawrence Bender for AI Film. Sir Elton John and Access Industries’ Len Blavatnik are executive producing the film, along with Icon/AI Film CEO Aviv Giladi and FilmDistrict CEO Schlessel.

Gracey is separately booked to direct Fox’s The Greatest Showman On Earth with Hugh Jackman attached to star and Disney’s The Muppet Man, produced by the Jim Henson Company. Rocketman will feature fantastical choreographed sequences around Elton John’s biggest hits. Gracey’s well known for his dance-filled commercials work. “Everyone knows and loves Elton John’s music, but the true story of his life is so incredible that it can only be described as a fantasy,” Gracey said, when I wrote about this project after I reported that he became the director. “His journey from impossible dreamer to stardom and uncontrollable excess is something only a musical film can capture, and I’m so excited to be the one to tell his story.”

They are searching to cast the child Elton John, and that search is being conducted by Jessica Ronane, whose credits include Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Billy Elliott The Musical and Matilda. The hope is that Hardy will take over that role in adulthood, with CAA repping him. Rocket Pictures is the film and TV company hatched by Elton John and his partner David Furnish to focus on family and music-themed projects for multiple platforms. That includes the 3-D animated movie Gnomeo & Juliet for Disney, which had original songs by John and grossed near $200 million worldwide. Rocket Pictures is at work on the sequel, Sherlock Gnomes, directed by Kung Fu Panda‘s John Stevenson; and Will Gallows And The Snake Bellied Troll, written and to be directed by Shrek 2‘s Kelly Asbury. CAA reps Gracey and Hardy, the latter of whom is also repped by UK-based Lindy King.

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