As you might’ve heard, production has started – or is about to begin – on several big splashy franchise installments arriving in 2015. Terminator: Genesis officially began filming yesterday (check out Arnold Schwarzenegger on set); principal photography for the Fantastic Four reboot starts in two weeks; and cameras will be rolling on Jurassic World (a.k.a. Jurassic Park 4) by the start of June this year. Meanwhile, Star Wars: Episode VII won’t arrive until right before the start of winter next year (unlike the aforementioned summer releases), but it has already commenced with second unit shooting.

Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, by way of Variety‘s Brent Lang, has confirmed that filming on Episode VII is underway in Abu Dhabi, though it feels like old news now that photos taken form the set have already leaked (check out the Episode VII set images here). Horn again said that casting for Abrams’ film is not yet done; it’s odd news coming so close to the start of filming, but we expect the situation to change very soon.

Horn, via an additional report by Variety, also revealed that he shall meet up with director J.J. Abrams to give the Episode VII script one final glance-over and discuss production design later this week in London, where the bulk of shooting for the seventh Star Wars live-action movie is slated to take place. Finally, the chairman described the budget for Abrams’ film as “in the neighborhood of $175 million to $200 million,” which is pretty standard for these kind of effects-heavy tentpoles nowadays.

Arguably, the most interesting “update” that Horn had to offer (via Lang) is that the Star Wars movies coming after Episode VII might arrive in May, rather than stick with the film’s December release date approach. Previous installments in the space adventure series were released in May, as was the original plan for Episode VII; Toy Story 3 writer Michael Arndt’s original script draft for the project was reportedly heavily revised by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back), which is the unofficial reason why pre-production on Episode VII took longer than expected.

Back in 2013, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that the Mouse and Lucasfilm – now presided over by legendary blockbuster producer Kathleen Kennedy – intend to release (on average) a new Star Wars movie every year, beginning with Episode VII. That includes future “Episode” installments, in addition to solo films/spinoffs that highlight characters who are “not part of the overall saga,” with the tentative schedule including Episode VII in 2015, a spinoff in 2016, Episode VIII in 2017, and so forth. However, some – if not all – of those post-Episode VII films could wind up being summer releases; it “depends on screenplay readiness,” reports Lang.

On the one hand, releasing future Star Wars movies in May might seem like a no-brainer; they’re the sort of pop blockbusters that are good for kicking off a Summer Movie Season properly – not to mention, they’ve long thrived at the box office during that month. However, things have changed in recent years, as May is now a playground for big Marvel superhero/comic book adaptations (see: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past this year, Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015, etc.). Furthermore, the month is pretty much booked up through until 2017 – and even then, May is already partially filled up, with stuff like an unannounced Marvel film and the LEGO Movie sequel.

Disney/Lucasfilm could release future Star Wars movies in June/July instead (the box office slow down makes August less likely), but those months have also become pretty full over the next few years.  Still, there’s no reason the franchise can’t make December its new home and clean up at the box office, much like Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films have for over a decade now. We’ll just have to wait and see how Disney plays this game, basically.

Star Wars: Episode VII opens in U.S. theaters on December 18th, 2015.

Source: VarietyBrent Lang [via /Film]