Brit outfit to roll film units into one

LONDON — Channel 4 is planning to set up its own stand-alone film company, bringing together its production, distribution and sales activities under a single corporate umbrella, according to sources.

This move is likely to go ahead next year, despite last week’s announcement that C4 film supremos David Aukin and Colin Leventhal are quitting to launch a new London-based venture in partnership with Miramax.

Channel 4’s integrated film company will unite the Film on Four production department with Channel 4 Intl., the unit that handles international sales, and Film Four Distributors, the web’s U.K. theatrical distribution arm.

All three branches already work closely together, and the creation of a single company is described by insiders as “the next logical step.” It will make it easier for the web to raise partnership funding for its pics, and particularly to use off-balance sheet financing. It will also help in planning marketing strategies for C4 pics at an early stage of their development.

The move does not indicate any change in C4’s existing commitment to the film business. The web has already announced that its film production budget, which was $37 million this year, will rise to $43 million next year and $52 million in 1999.

Film Four Distributors, which launched last year to handle the U.K. release of C4 pics, is understood to be trading profitably.

Business plans are already being drawn up for the new integrated company, which would probably have an arms-length contractual relationship to supply a certain number of films a year to Channel 4 for a fixed price.

Aukin, C4’s head of film, and Leventhal, the web’s director of acquisitions who also doubles as managing director of Channel 4 Intl. and chairman of FFD, were originally set to act as joint chiefs of the new company.

If anything, their departure is likely to accelerate the formation of the integrated company by clearing the way for the reorganization to take place under whoever is appointed to replace them.

C4 chief exec Michael Jackson sent a letter to British film producers Monday reaffirming his enthusiasm for the movie business, despite the exit of Aukin and Leventhal.

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