Disney Chief Reveals 'Star Wars: VII' Casting Almost Complete, Says Film Is Already Shooting

Chairman Alan Horn acknowledged problems getting the script right for the anticipated sequel. Asked by THR if the screenplay was where it needed to be, he added: "It actually is now."

The new Star Wars -- episode 7 in the nine-picture franchise -- has already begun filming and most of the cast is now in place for the movie, Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn revealed April 2. “We have a lot of them [in place],” he said about the main actors, whose names have not been disclosed. “We’re just not completely done yet.”

Horn acknowledged there had been some problems getting the script right. “It’s all about the screenplay,” he said. “It has to be screenplay, screenplay, screenplay.” Asked if the screenplay was fully where it needed to be, he added: “It actually is now.” The script has been co-written by Lawrence Kasdan and J.J. Abrams, following an early draft by Michael Arndt.

The executive said the movie would be released in December 2015 and that the story would pick up “where 6 left off -- and where 6 left off is 35 years ago by the time this is released.”

Horn was interviewed by THR’s Stephen Galloway at Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television in Los Angeles, as part of the ongoing Hollywood Masters series. Others in the series have included Alfonso Cuaron, David O. Russell, Judd Apatow, John Singleton, Sherry Lansing and William Friedkin.

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In a broad overview of his life and career -- which has included long stints as a co-owner of Castle Rock Entertainment and as president of Warner Bros., he described two of his greatest challenges: Overseeing the Harry Potter franchise and dealing with the unexpected death of The Dark Knight co-star Heath Ledger.

“I was at the studio, I think it was during the day,” he recalled about when he heard of Ledger’s death in January 2008. “It was a shock, just a shock. I got hold of his dad, Kim, from Australia. I was amazed at how stoic his family was. They came out for the Academy Awards and he won. We had a big dinner for them at the Bel-Air Hotel in a little private room there. They were so proud of him and externally they were really great. It was hard.” He continued: “Everybody was in the same place about Heath’s loss: The most important thing [was] to be sure that his family had their privacy, or whatever they wanted. Whatever it took, we did.”

Horn also addressed the increasing importance of foreign markets and their capacity to grow even more. “China is now the No. 2 market after the United States,” he said. “But just to give you some perspective, there’s 44,000 screens in the U.S. and Canada; in the U.K. there’s 4,000, Italy 4,000, Spain 4,000, France 4,800, Mexico 5,000. China has 18,000 now [for] 1.3 billion people -- 18,000 screens. We have one-quarter as many people and 44,000 screens. And they’re building 10 screens a day in China. It is a major new growth market.”

He added that international revenue was around $9.5 billion in 2004, $18 billion in 2008, and $24 billion in 2012, with “$28 billion projected for 2016. The growth is international, but they’re under-screened.”