Rome's Blue Star Movie has sealed a landmark multi-million dollar product placement deal with Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, with the multinational agreeing to fund an international short film and potentially a European feature-length picture.

Blue Star Movie head Pete Maggi said Johnson & Johnson is investing "over Euros 10m" to finance script development and casting for the project, a comedy named Stopping Power Girls.

Casting will take place across Europe, in preparation for start of shooting in August Maggi hopes the short will attract potential partners for a feature-length movie, which he plans to produce in 2004.

"Johnson & Johnson will be branding the movie, in the same way that Fedex branded Castaway and [jeweller] Bulgari and others have branded James Bond movies," Maggi said.

Stopping Power Girls will "focus on a way of life rather than a product" and will be targeted at 16-24 year-olds. "When I make a movie, I can usually find up to 80% of the film's budget," explained Maggi, the producer behind Renzo Martinelli's upcoming Five Moons Square, a $7.6m English-language thriller inspired by the 1978 kidnap and murder of Italian prime minister Aldo Moro. "But product placement can be a new way of funding the remaining 15-20%."

Irene Masiello, director of consumer marketing for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said Johnson & Johnson had decided to invest in cinema for the first time "because it's a great means of mass communication." Masiello told Screen International that she had been "looking for a partner with a real European vision, and Blue Star stood out." "Multinationals obviously have a very different agenda from film companies; for a start our schedule is a lot tighter. But Blue Star impressed us with their ability to integrate their vision with our business needs," she said. "We hope to continue working together after this film," she said.

The deal was signed by Maggi and Johnson & Johnson Vision Care marketing director Ian Davies. Maggi was one of the founders in 1986 of Eagle Pictures, Italy's dynamic production and distribution outfit. He left the company two years ago to start up Blue Star and retains a 10% stake in Eagle.

Blue Star currently has a joint venture agreement with the UK's Spice Factory to co-produce three to five pictures a year shot in Italy in English with budgets ranging from $3m - $20m. Five Moons Square is the first picture under the deal.

Maggi has also set up a Blue Star outfit in the UK to develop the company's international strategy as well as future projects with Spice Factory.