The grandfather of international sales Dino De Laurentiis arrives in Cannes next Tuesday (May 19) with seven major territories to sell on his $150m Alexander The Great epic as well as a brand new Hannibal Lecter project currently being plotted by Lecter's creator Thomas Harris.

The Lecter Variation, which is being subtitled The Story Of Young Hannibal Lecter, follows the serial killer from his childhood in Lithuania through a period in Paris in his teens to his arrival in the US. De Laurentiis said that four actors will be required to play young Lecter at the ages of 12, 16, 20 and 25.

"Lecter was born into a very rich family but the war destroyed his family and killed his parents," explained De Laurentiis from Los Angeles this week. "He was left with his sister with whom he had a very close relationship."

Universal, which handled international on Hannibal and the world on Red Dragon for De Laurentiis, will again distribute The Lecter Variation, although De Laurentiis is planning to sell major territories here.

Harris has written the story for the producer and is likely to write the screenplay himself as well as a book. The title refers to Bach's Goldberg Variations which have been a recurring musical reference in the Lecter saga to date.

Meanwhile De Laurentiis outlined the plans for his Alexander project, which is being directed by Baz Luhrmann and set to star Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman.

Seemingly unconcerned by the fact that Oliver Stone's rival Alexander project for Intermedia is being readied for a late 2004 delivery date, De Laurentiis is set to begin principal photography of the film in Morocco in April 2004.

Universal has domestic rights to the film and DreamWorks has international, although De Laurentiis is planning to sell Germany, Japan, France, UK, Spain, Italy and possibly Korea and Australia/New Zealand at Cannes.

"It's an expensive film and the prices are high," he explained, "although I have already had one offer from Japan of $20m. We are moving slowly and according to our plan. I believe that on a project of this size, you have to prepare properly, so we have eight months' preparation. The film has 20 leading characters and 70 speaking parts. Without full preparation, you go over schedule and over budget."

De Laurentiis said that digital effects work largely involving Alexander's horse Bucephalus will begin in November, with rehearsals set for Jan 2004. Kidman plays Olympia, Alexander's mother who was 16 years his senior. "The character of Olympia is one of the few iconic women in history," she said in a statement. "She is unlike any other woman I've played before and it's a role I'm really looking forward to."

"It's not just that Alexander conquered the world or was taught by Aristotle," added DiCaprio. "What most attracts me is the complex character of Alexander himself - always restless, impulsive but measured. His legend is one of the most compelling stories in human history."

De Laurentiis is also selling territories on Carlo Carlei's next film Last Legion, another historical epic set during the fall of the Roman empire which will be shot in English as a European production. The film tells the true story of a group of legionaries who go to Britain to save the young emperor of Rome who has been kidnapped by barbarians.