Granada grooms a higher pic profile

Player ramps up production

LONDON — After more than a decade flying beneath the radar, Granada Film is finally emerging as an international player with the U.S. success of Terry Zwigoff’s “Ghost World” and the launch of its own foreign sales arm.

The arrival of sales veteran Penny Wolf marks a breakthrough for the production unit, which is part of ITV company Granada.

Not only will the hitherto low-profile label, run by Pippa Cross and Janette Day, now take greater control of financing and greenlighting its own movies, but it will also be able to stamp its own brand more clearly upon them.

Since making its debut in 1989 with the double Oscar-winning “My Left Foot,” the label has plugged away at developing and producing movies with a variety of partners.

But the ITV company’s varying enthusiasm for the movie business has often restricted the ability of Granada Film to finance and therefore to take credit for its own slate.

Granada typically gets no financing from the network. A much-vaunted plan in the mid-1990s for the ITV web to invest in movies, following the success of Channel 4 and the BBC, came to nothing. The other ITV companies all shuttered their film production units long ago.

Granada’s commitment to movies may have wavered over the years, but it has never quit entirely. With film now looking like the most robust sector in an otherwise bleak media landscape, this tenacity may start to pay off.

And now, with “Ghost World” — in which it invested significantly — topping the arthouse charts in America, and Brian Gilbert’s $16 million supernatural thriller “The Gathering,” its biggest movie ever, shooting in the U.K., Granada Film is ramping up.

Its new sales arm is handling four films to roll next year — Terry Kinney’s $14 million “Found in the Street” from John Malkovich’s mr.mudd shingle, starring Kirsten Dunst; Craig Ferguson’s $7 million “All-American Man,” starring Brenda Blethyn; “Single Girl’s Diary,” a $6 million Brit comedy; and the $30 million actioner “Roofworld” from Samuelson Prods.

Some projects will continue to go through other sales companies. “Vanity Fair,” a $20 million period pic written and directed by Ben Ross, is scheduled for early 2002, with USA Films co-producing and Good Machine Intl. handling foreign rights

“The Giraffe,” to be directed by Peter Hewitt, is also likely to be financed by an outside distrib. It’s a $20 million family road movie set a couple of centuries ago, about an English aristo and an urchin traveling across the Alps with the eponymous ungulate.

Further down the line, Granada Film’s overall deal with mr.mudd will also deliver “Murder Book,” a $20 million thriller with Malkovich set to star, and “Going Public,” a dot-com drama being developed with Intermedia.

Director Charles Sturridge is developing J.M. Coetzee’s Booker Prize-winning novel “Disgrace.” George Armitage (“Grosse Point Blank”) will write and direct an adaptation of Ranulph Fiennes’ commando thriller “The Feather Men.”

Other books recently optioned by Granada Film include John Burdett’s “The Personal History of Thirst” and Tobias Hill’s “The Love of Stones.”

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