London-based production outfit Lucky 7 has signed a two-picture deal with Belgian action star Jean-Claude Van Damme which will see the actor direct his first film since The Quest in 1996.

Lucky 7 Productions was set up last year by Florida's Bauer Martinez Studios in conjunction with UK producer Alan Latham. Chairman Philippe Martinez says: "We are producing three pictures a year from Lucky 7 out of London, all of which are budgeted between $10m-$20m. Mainly they will be co-productions between England, Spain and Germany."

Lucky 7 recently completed The Piano Player, featuring Christopher Lambert and Dennis Hopper, and enters production on Jerry Springer project Citizen Verdict next month.

The first of the company's Van Damme films, The Tower, is scheduled to start shooting in February 2003 in London and Thailand. Van Damme wrote, stars in and will direct the $20m action thriller, which follows a former motorcycle champion in a coma after an accident. While unconscious, he finds himself transported to a 'tower' consisting of seven levels through which he must fight before choosing whether to return to this world or to move on to the next.

"It will be something very unusual," explains Van Damme. "As for making the move into directing, let me do this movie first - the best way I can - and I think that it will surprise a lot of people."

The second film in the deal will be After Death, directed by Ringo Lam, who has worked with Van Damme on films such as The Monk, Replicant and Maximum Risk. The $20m After Death, which sees Van Damme embroiled in a tale of reincarnation that moves from Vancouver's Chinatown to Beijing, shoots in China from July 2003. Martinez says Lucky 7 is currently looking for a Chinese co-producer.