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TX LONDON — At least 17 serious bidders, including most of the biggest names in the U.K. film industry, will apply Friday for the four British film production franchises to be funded by the national lottery.

This hugely ambitious initiative is designed to trigger a revolution in the British film industry, by using public money to create a miniature version of the Hollywood studio system.

The idea is that each franchise will combine producers with U.K. distribution, international sales, and new equity and loan finance, to form a powerful mini-studio dedicated to making commercial British movies for the global market.

The Arts Council of England is offering up to four franchises, which would each get privileged access to a pool of lottery cash to be used as co-finance for movies, up to $3.3 million per movie or 50% of the budget. The franchises will run for six years. The maximum sum that bidders can ask for is $63.8 million, while the minimum is $9.8 million.

The past few days have seen a last-minute scramble by the main groups to sign up their final partners in time for Friday’s bidding deadline.

Daily Variety has identified 17 bidding consortia involving the principal players in British cinema, but there may also be several other tenders from outsiders with little chance of winning.

The four winners will be announced by the end of May.

The runners and riders are as follows:

* Studio Pictures unites Canada’s Alliance Communications with ex-BBC film producer George Faber and five other companies: Oxford Film Co. (“Restoration”), First Film (“The Commitments”), Samuelson Prods. (“Wilde”), Little Bird Films (“Nothing Personal”) and Natural Nylon, the company formed by actors Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller and Jude Law. Electric Pictures, in which Alliance is taking a minority stake, will be the U.K. distributor for Studio Pictures.

The consortium is bidding for the full $63.8 million, aiming to produce six films in the first year and 10 films a year thereafter. Half or more of these projects are likely to come from producers outside the consortium.

Elton, Merchant Ivory team

* Partners in Film, which includes Merchant Ivory, sales company Capitol Films, bank Guinness Mahon and U.K. distrib First Independent, has been joined by several producers, including Elton John’s Rocket Pictures, Jo Manuel, Chris Curling, Talisman Films and Richard Holmes. There’s equity financing from Yorkshire Tyne Tees TV, Japanese investor NDF, New York fund Foundry and London-based fund Bonaparte. PIF is bidding for $55.6 million.

* British media giant Pearson, which owns a small stake in Mike Medavoy’s Phoenix Pictures, is going ahead with a bid in partnership with Brian Eastman’s Carnival Films, although Phoenix is no longer directly involved.

* Veteran producers Scala Prods., Skreba Films, Greenpoint Films and Parallax Pictures have teamed with the exhibitor Virgin Cinemas to form the Film Consortium. Rank Film Distributors will handle the U.K. theatrical distribution, with BMG Video putting up P&A in return for video rights. French bank Cofiloloisirs will provide loan finance and gap finance for production, with Berliner Bank also lined up as a possible partner. The Film Consortium will take a 25% stake in the Sales Co. for international sales.

Kate Wilson will be chief exec, with Colin Vaines as head of production. The group is bidding for $54 million. It is aiming to make four films in the first year, with projects from Ken Loach, Chris Menges, Gillies Mackinnon and Phil Davies.

* The Feature Film Co. has come on board as U.K. distributor for the consortium that includes Stephen Evans’ Renaissance Films, Guy East’s international financing and distribution vehicle Intermedia, its sister company West Eleven Films, and producer Dakota Films.

* Granada Films has joined the UK Filmworks bid, which includes producer David Parfitt, Mike Newell’s Dogstar Films, the U.S. sales company Summit Entertainment, and financier Newmarket. Soho Group, a post-production house, will also be an equity partner. Columbia TriStar (U.K.) is likely to handle British distribution for U.K. Filmworks, which will be run by Parfitt as managing director and Newell as chairman.

* J&M Entertainment, Jeremy Thomas’ Recorded Picture Co. and Entertainment Film Distributors have confirmed plans for a bid, with four other producers yet to be announced. The bidding company will be headed by former J&M and Chrysalis exec Peter Rogers.

* Handmade Films, the London-based production and sales arm of Canada’s Paragon Entertainment, is partnering with producers Zenith Prods., Stephen Bayly, Margaret Matheson and Sam Taylor. Metro Tartan will be the U.K. distributor.

* Todd-AO’s London-based lab Filmatic and the investment fund Trafalgar Films have thrown their weight behind the consortium that includes Focus Films, Feasible Films and Edenwood Films. Elstree Studios is also supporting the group, which is bidding for $41.7 million.

* Trafalgar Films, a vehicle set up by financier David Platt, is also leading its own bid for $63.8 million, with the same group of producers attached.

* Canada’s Nelvana has joined the cartoon group of Martin Gates Prods., Carrington Prods Intl., Gerry Anderson’s Inimitable and Cosgrove Hall Films. The group, dubbed United Animation Plc, will handle its own U.K. distribution, backed by an agreement from the ABC cinema chain to screen its movies. Bidding for $49 million.

* The Children’s Film Foundation is bidding, with Rank as its U.K. distributor.

Gromit in the running

* Gallic pay TV giant Canal Plus has joined the Pathe Pictures bid put together by Guild-Pathe, the French-owned British distrib, along with producers Simon Channing-Williams, Sarah Radclyffe, Lynda Myles, Jake Eberts and Aardman Animations. The group is headed by Timothy Burrill of Pathe Prods., but Ciby has dropped out as the foreign sales partner.

* Maverick producer/distrib Metrodome is making a $39.2 million bid.

* Double Negative is the name for the Polygram-backed bid, which includes Working Title Films, Revolution Films and producer Robert Jones.

* Producers Duncan Kenworthy and Andrew Macdonald have formed DNA Films, which will have an output deal with an unnamed U.K. distributor. DNA will focus on making a small number of low-budget movies.

* Veteran producer Sandy Lieberson is understood to be preparing a bid to make documentary features.

The four winners will be announced by the end of May.

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