David Furnish and Elton John's Rocket Pictures has renewed its first-look deal with Walt Disney Co. for another five years and unveiled a fresh line-up of films.
The company has also negotiated an increased development fund from Disney at a time when, according to Furnish, 97% of the studio's overhead deals are being cut.
Peter Hewitt, director of The Borrowers, and writer Phil Hughes, who recently collaborated with Hewitt on Thunderpants, are adapting Winging It, the first in the Angels Unlimited series of children's books. The story is about a girl who goes to heaven and finds herself in the Angel Academy, where angels are trained to go on secret missions. The UK arm of Disney's Buena Vista International (BVI) has picked up the project.
Launched five years ago with a first-look deal with Walt Disney Co., Rocket has had its sceptics, producing only one film to date, Women Talking Dirty. But the renewed deal and a slate with two new projects set up with BVI testifies to a growing momentum.
"I had lunch with someone last week and told them that we had renewed our deal," Furnish said. "They said: 'That's great. The first time you got that deal was because of Elton; the second time is because of you and the work that you are doing.'"
BVI has also boarded a contemporary version of Vanity Fair in which Becky Sharp is an "it" girl in London. Marc Munden, whose credits include Miranda for FilmFour and the BBC's Vanity Fair TV mini-series, is to direct from a script by Patrick Barlow.
"Kristin Jones and Daniel Battsek at BVI are serious about making British films that travel internationally and so is Rocket," said head of development Steve Hamilton Shaw.
Also new are Belinda Jones' adaptation of her novel Divas Las Vegas and Seven Ways To Keep Your Wife, the first original screenplay from novelist Madeleine Wickham, who wrote the Shopaholic series under the pseudonym Sophie Kinsella. Additionally, Rocket has attached leading TV writers Andy Riley and Kevin Cecil to A Gnome's Story, one of its big-budget animation pictures for Disney.
The company aims to shoot two films next year: So I Am Glad, being co-produced with Ed Harris and Amy Madigan; and low-budget emotional drama Road Movie. Hamilton Shaw will now produce Rocket's films with Furnish as well as oversee development, working with development executive Caroline Hamlen.
Furnish has been back in the editing room for Women Talking Dirty, which UIP releases in the UK next month. He said that it has been "radically changed" after the first version was scathingly reviewed at Toronto in 1999.
"That is proof that this is not some kind of vanity deal, as it would have been easy to let that go," he said. "It wasn't a case of Elton writing a cheque for David's little toy, it was independently financed through Jean Doumanian's Sweetland Films and I had to go to them and persuade them that it was worth the extra investment."