Thomas Schuehly, the producer of Oliver Stone's Alexander, is planning to return to Morocco withhis next project, an adaptation of Umberto Eco's medieval historical novel Baudolino that he hopes to shoot in 2005.

Schuehly, who was also executive produced the screen adaptation ofEco's The Name Of The Rose, is trying to entice Milos Forman into directing the film, whosepicaresque story starts in 1204 as the Byzantium capital of Constantinople isbeing sacked by the knights of the Fourth Crusade. The writer of the project isGlenn Wilhide.

Baudolino,the name of the central character, is the fantastical life story of an Italianpeasant boy who ends up being adopted by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

Baudolino happens to be a prodigiously gifted liar, a talent he makes full use of as he recounts apersonal journey that touches on everything from Charlemagne and the Holy Grailto one-eyed giants, unicorns and the long search for the mythic Christianpriest and ruler of the east, Prester John.

As with the Intermedia/IMF-produced Alexander, Schuehly will tap German finance.

"I'm trying to take German money to make what I call movies - and Alexander makes this point. There's no wayHollywood would ever have financed an Oliver Stone film at $150m."

Baudolinoshares certain historical elements with Ridley Scott's Kingdom Of Heaven, which starts shooting in Morocco inJanuary for 20th Century Fox. That film, to which Orlando Bloom hasbeen linked, tells the story of a youngblacksmith who leads the people of Jerusalem in a fight against the Crusaders.

Scott was also in town this week at the Marrakech InternationalFilm Festival (3-8 Oct) to finalise plans with the authorities and to accept anaward bestowed by King Mohammed VI.

"I talked with Ridley about it," said Schuehly. "I'm going a bitmore into it because I'm more European than American, so it's not just action.I wouldn't try to get a director such as Milos Forman if I didn't have a clearidea why."

Stone's Alexander is now finishing its second week of production at a base around35 km south of Marrakech, before shooting scenes of Alexander's childhood inthe medieval coastal town of Essaouira, standing in for Macedonia.

Stone's film, backed by Intermedia, co-produced by Pathe and to be released byWarner Bros in the US in Nov 2004, then heads to the UK's Pinewood Studios nextmonth to shoot interiors.

According to Schuehly, the 87-day shoot for Alexander is completelyon schedule, despite a sandstorm that left him sheltering under a car.

"Everyone was convinced, at four o'clock in the afternoon, that wewould wrap. Someone asked Oliver and he said, 'are you fucking nuts' Let'sshoot the end of the battle.' And we got this wonderful light."

The entire Moroccan administration has given the film "enormoussupport" according to Schuehly, with logistical help and the use of an averageof 3,000 soldiers per day, who are living in three base camps in the desert. DaleDye, a captain of the US marines, who has since been upgraded to second unitdirector, trained the soldiers in Greek-style warfare.

Stone and star Colin Farrell - the latter dressed in a Moroccankaftan and a fez - were in attendance at the king of Morocco's dinner onSaturday night (Oct 4) in Marrakech;s royal palace. Prince Moulay Rachid hasalready visited the Alexander set three times.

Schuehly, who confirmed that the budget of Alexander, without including indirect costs, was $150m, deniedthat there were any security worries about shooting in Morocco.

"This film is financed by Germany which makes quite a differenceto Hollywood finance. We never considered leaving this country. We simply haveto cope with reality. There was no need to become hysterical. There are peoplesitting in studios that don't even know where Morocco is. And Oliver had a veryclear policy with actors. Those who wouldn't consider coming - 'goodbye'."According to Schuehly, the production lost several actors as a result.

Nevertheless, the set is closed and under armed guard. "We are notcovered by studios, but by soldiers," said Schuehly. "And we like this. We aremaking a film about the most famous general of all time and we are surroundedby soldiers. It creates the right atmosphere - of males."

The model, says Schuehly, is David Lean's Lawrence Of Arabia. "I think I can say - and this is notmovie shit - that the screen has never seen battles like this. This is theexact opposite of The Lord Of The Rings. We don't want to create the film in a computer. If youtake [Stone's] Any Given Sundayand give them swords, then you have the battles."

Schuehly was also somewhat dismissive of Baz Luhrmann andDino Di Laurentiis' rival Alexander The Great project, which has yet to decide on a shooting base, although DiLaurentiis has started construction on studios in Morocco.

"This race was not started by us because I conceived this in 1989.Our policy was not to respond to anything, and Di Laurentiis said very, verymean things about Morocco to jeopardise our project and get it killed throughthe Bin Laden effect. But we won the race, and it's now his move."

For a full report on shooting in Morocco and other desert locations worldwide, read this week's SCREEN INTERNATIONAL print edition.