U.K.’s FilmFour pages quirky fare for pix

WITH A WARNER BROS. FIRST-LOOK DEAL in hand and a new L.A. office, FilmFour is widening its horizons well beyond Blighty.

The Channel 4 subsid is attempting to make two to three pics a year that are, in the words of deputy production head James Wilson, “bigger and more international in their spectrum.”

That agenda has made FilmFour decidedly book-friendly — a fact that hasn’t been lost on lit agents, many of whom see FilmFour as a vital port of call for books deemed too challenging for the studio development mills, like “Hilary and Jackie” and “Trainspotting.”

There’s been a run of lit acquisitions lately at FilmFour, the most recent of which is “Eye of the Fox,” a memoir by Tod Michael Volpe, a former art dealer to the stars. Volpe, who has worked for Barbra Streisand, Joel Silver, Terry Semel, Don Simpson and David Geffen, gained notoriety in 1997 when he was indicted for defrauding his clients of $2.5 million.

FilmFour intends to use Volpe’s manuscript, which doesn’t yet have a publisher, as the starting point for a large-canvas fictional treatment of the art world that may even involve a heist.

“It’s ‘Traffic’ with paint,” said Wilson, who notes that FilmFour is likely to mute the Hollywood component of the story. Even so, Jody Hotchkiss at Sterling Lord Literistic, who brought the book to FilmFour, believed the company was more inclined to take risks with material that hits close to home.

“Like ‘The Player,’ which was developed, financed and distributed independent(ly) of the Hollywood studios, I hope that ‘Eye of the Fox’ will be a better movie for coming from outside the system,” said Hotchkiss.

“Eye of the Fox” is one of two book projects FilmFour is producing with Luc Besson’s Seaside Prods., the U.S. arm of which is now run by creative exec Aimee Peyronnet. The other is “Wide, Wide Heaven,” a book by Alice Sebold, under contract to Little, Brown, formerly called “The Lovely Bones,” about a murdered teenage girl who observes from heaven various transformations in the life of her family.

FilmFour has attached “Ratcatcher” helmer Lynne Ramsay to write and direct.

Another offbeat novel under development is “Under the Skin” by Michael Faber. Recently published Stateside by Harcourt Brace, it describes an alien in the guise of a beautiful woman who travels the Scottish Highlands picking up hitchhikers.

Jonathan Glazer, who helmed “Sexy Beast,” is attached to direct “Under the Skin” and Alexander Stuart, who wrote “The War Zone,” will pen the script. Pic will be produced with Industry Entertainment.

In contrast to studio execs seeking brandable formulas and lit boilerplates, Wilson is drawn to the unconventional quality of such fare. “What I’m always looking for is the singularity or stamp of a voice,” he said. “It’s so hard to create a film that stands out in a crowd. Once you have a world you haven’t been to or a voice you haven’t heard, you’re already ahead of the game.”

THE ADVENT OF DIGITAL FILMMAKING has led feature directors ranging from George Lucas to Richard Linklater to throw down their costly 35mm cameras and experiment with new narrative ideas, visual styles and different approaches to editing.

Now bestselling novelist and Emmy Award-winning writer Stephen J. Cannell is following suit.

Cannell has written a script for a digital horror pic, “Director’s Cut,” which he is producing with helmer Chuck Bowman.

Cannell and Bowman, who’ve known each other since they both held jobs at KTLA in Los Angeles (channel 5) 35 years ago, chose to use the Sony 24P camera developed for Lucas’ next “Star Wars” prequel.

The ultra-low-budget feature stars Antonio Sabato Jr. as a high school student in a class charged with a summer project to make a digital film. When one of the students produces a horror pic, and is roundly reprimanded by his teacher, the body count starts to add up.

Though Bowman says he and Cannell had interest from distributors early on, the two were determined to produce the pic without studio interference. They plan to shop it to distribs once it’s edited. “We were really stepping out,” said Bowman. “So we needed to keep absolute creative control.”

That independence has allowed Cannell to take a significant role in the pic, as well as become part of the body count when he is unceremoniously dispatched with a medieval battle ax.

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