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BSkyB looks to lock up local pix

LONDON — Since start-up, BSkyB’s movie channels have conspicuously lacked one thing: British movies.

That will soon change, as the broadcaster is angling for pay windows for up to 15 films each year.

BSkyB is close to finalizing a deal to air the 10 pictures a year that are partly financed by agency British Screen Finance. And it’s negotiating with the BBC to secure the pubcaster’s annual output of five theatrical features.

But it’s having no luck with the Channel Four web, which jealously guards its Film on Four strand by denying those films a U.K. pay-TV window.

Heretofore BSkyB hadn’t shown much interest in British films. “We guarantee U.S producers a pay window (via output deals with the majors),” said director of programs David Elstein. “It was odd that we did not do the same for British producers, and we ought to do so.”

He expects to pay 5% to 10% of the budgets for pay TV rights, with escalators based on U.K. box office receipts.

Helping pic producers

British Screen CEO Simon Perry says the deal he’s discussing with Elstein will enable him to invest “a bit more money” in each film so producers get the benefit of the BSkyB coin.

British Screen is supporting five films, including Brian Gilbert’s “Tom and Viv,” John Irvin’s “Widow’s Peak” and John Duigan’s “Sirens.” It expects to put coin into Anna Campion’s (sister of Jane Campion) “Bloody Weekend” and George Sluizer’s “Dark Blood.”

There could be more good news for local producers if British Screen can persuade the government to renew the European Coproduction Fund.

Launched by then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a little over two years ago with T5 million ($ 7.5 million) from the government, the fund is fully spent.

Currently it’s assisting five films, including Steven Berkoff’s “Decadence,” Gabriel Axel’s “The Prince of Jutland” and Jiri Menzel’s Russian-language “The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin.”

British Screen, which administers the fund, is lobbying the Dept. of National Heritage to re-finance the ECF next year.

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