Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Paramount Pictures, a division of Viacom, Inc., announced today that principal photography has begun on Ben-Hur starring Jack Huston (American Hustle) as Judah Ben-Hur, Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption) as Ilderim, Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) as Messala and Nazanin Boniadi (Homeland) as Esther. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) and written by Keith Clarke (The Way Back) and John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), the film is based on Lew Wallace's epic novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of The Christ. The producers are Sean Daniel (The Mummy franchise), Mark Burnett (Son of God), Joni Levin (The Way Back) and Duncan Henderson (Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World).

Serving as executive producers are Roma Downey (The Bible), Keith Clarke, John Ridley and Jason Brown. Filming will take place in Rome and Matera, Italy with the film set for release February 26, 2016. Ben-Hur also stars Rodrigo Santoro (300: Rise of an Empire) as Jesus Christ, Sofia Black-D'Elia (Gossip Girl) as Tirzah, Ayelet Zurer (Man of Steel) as Naomi, Moises Arias (Ender's Game) as Gestas and Pilou Asbæk (Lucy) as Pontius Pilate. Here's what director Timur Bekmambetov had to say about shooting in Italy.

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"You could not have imagined a more perfect location to shoot this epic than Italy. We can't wait to get started."

The film returns to the heart of Lew Wallace's epic novel focusing on the nature of faith. The story follows a falsely accused nobleman who survives years of slavery to take vengeance on his best friend who betrayed him. Both must come to choose between retribution or forgiveness.

Behind the scenes, the creative team includes Director of Photography, Oliver Wood (The Bourne Identity), Production Designer, Naomi Shohan (American Beauty), Costume Designer, Varvava Avdyushko (Wanted), Visual Effects Supervisor, Academy Award Winner Jim Rygiel (The Lord of the Rings Franchise) and Special Effects Supervisor, Andy Williams (Fury). MGM will handle production with Jonathan Glickman, President, Motion Picture Group and Matt Dines, Vice President, Production, overseeing the project on behalf of the studio. The film will be distributed worldwide theatrically and on home entertainment by Paramount Pictures, with select international territories as well as all television distribution to be handled by MGM.