Hail Britannia

HAL slate built on U.K. writers, original works

Four months after its launch, HAL Films, the U.K. production venture backed by Miramax, has unveiled its first development slate of nine projects, involving leading British writers such as Fredric Raphael, Nick Hornby, Rupert Walters, Paula Milne and Ben Ross.

This marks the first detailed signal about the creative intentions of HAL’s London-based principals David Aukin, Colin Leventhal and Trea Hoving. Eight of the new projects are original screenplays, and seven are contempo stories.

“This statistic underlines our preference for the original screenplay to the extent that even when we are working on an adaptation of a period film, we encourage the filmmakers to treat it as far as possible as a contemporary story,” Aukin says.

HAL was launched in January as a partnership between Miramax, former Channel 4 film chiefs Aukin and Leventhal and ex-Miramax exec Hoving. They have taken over responsibility for all Miramax’s U.K.-based production and acquisition activities. HAL has $3 million in discretionary development coin and a rolling production fund of $50 million.

“Everyone asks what we are looking for,” said Aukin. “I hope the answer will now be clear: We’re simply looking for the best. In the 16 weeks of our existence, we’ve put together a slate of projects from some of the finest writers and filmmakers working in Britain today.”

  • Fredric Raphael, who scripted “Eyes Wide Shut” for Stanley Kubrick, is writing an untitled screenplay that he describes enigmatically as “a story about sex and power and the power of sex.” Paul Raphael of Starfield Prods. will produce.

  • Carine Adler, whose debut feature “Under the Skin” attracted considerable critical acclaim, will direct “Transgressions,” which Sarah Dunant is adapting from her own novel. It’s a Hitchcockian revenge story about a woman who turns the tables on a stalker. Producer is Sally Hibbin of Parallax Pictures.

  • Ben Ross, writer-director of “The Young Poisoner’s Handbook,” is currently researching an original screenplay based on the legend of King Arthur.

  • Rupert Walters, best known as the writer of “Restoration,” has been commissioned for a romantic comedy titled “The Eve of St. Agnes,” about what happens when a British man proposes to an American woman after a brief holiday fling.

  • Paula Milne, whose “I Dream of Africa” is being filmed by Hugh Hudson for Stanley Jaffe, is writing “Before I Thee Wed” for HAL. Described by Leventhal as “an anti-romantic comedy,” it’s the story of what happens when a couple sign a pre-nuptial agreement, with disastrous consequences for their relationship.

  • TV writers Rob Sprackling and John Smith are scripting “Century Boy,” described as “a cross between ‘Zelig’ and ‘Forrest Gump’,” telling the story of one man’s life from his birth at the turn of the century to the present day. This is a project from Richard Holmes and Neil Peplow of the Gruber Brothers.

  • HAL is co-developing with Film Four an untitled script from Peter Morgan (“Martha — Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence”) about the joys of celibacy, which Grainne Marmion will produce.

  • Film Four is also partnering on a new thriller from Jez Butterworth, the writer-director of “Mojo,” about a banker who advertises for a postal bride from Eastern Europe, only to find himself engulfed by her relatives 48 hours after the wedding. Eric Abraham (“Kolya”) will produce.

  • HAL has also signed a first-look deal with Wildgaze Films, the company that unites the “Fever Pitch” team of producer Amanda Posey, director David Evans and writer Nick Hornby. The projects include Hornby’s original screenplay “Real Gone.” Hornby, whose debut novel “High Fidelity” was a bestseller in the U.K. and a cult hit in the U.S., is currently touring Stateside to promote his latest book, “About a Boy” (which was acquired by Castle Rock for $2.75 million).

  • HAL has struck separate deals with director Sam Miller and writer Amy Jenkins, who are about to start shooting the previously announced “Elephant Juice” for the company. HAL has committed to a second unspecified feature from Miller, while the company has first-look with Jenkins for the next film she will develop and/or direct.

The company has already announced its first three production projects to shoot this summer — “Mansfield Park,” “All About Adam” and “Elephant Juice.” But the first two of these were inherited from Miramax’s previous British slate, and none were developed by HAL.

Also previously announced from Miramax’s old slate is “The Waterhorse,” adapted by Simon Beaufoy (“The Full Monty”) from Dick King Smith’s children’s book, to be produced by Douglas Rae and Sarah Curtis.

“In all the talk within the U.K. about creating the right infrastructure, there is the assumption that the talent is there, and it’s just a question of giving them the money. But it’s more complex than that,” says Leventhal. “What’s going to distinguish the successful from the also-rans is the quality and depth of the development commitment. There are too many scripts going into production that are not of an acceptable standard.”

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