'Comedy Czar' forays into film

LONDON — David Baddiel, one of the U.K.’s best-known comedians, has hooked up with Winchester Entertainment in a unique venture to develop a slate of comedy movies.

Baddiel, in his own words, has taken on the role of “comedy czar” for the sales company, with a brief to solicit movie ideas from the British comedy community.

He has been given a budget of around $250,000 to commission 15 treatments, and then to select as many as five for development as screenplays.

Winchester is committed to put at least one script, and possibly two or three, into production by next fall.

Baddiel will act as exec producer alongside Winchester CEO Gary Smith, and Avalon Films, the production arm of Baddiel’s management company, will co-produce.

Comedy hunt

“We made a decision 18 months ago that we had to be more proactive in going out and finding British comedies,” says Smith. “It’s all part of an overall strategy at Winchester to take greater control over the creative process.”

“We went out to find a company to work with, and ended up with Avalon. We chose David because he’s very intelligent, he knows a lot of writers, he’s got a lot of experience in comedy, and he does seem to grasp the difference between film and television.”

Baddiel is one of the U.K.’s most successful comedy performers and writers, with a string of top-rated TV credits including “Fantasy Football League” and “Baddiel and Skinner Live.”

Novel approach

He has written two novels, and is developing the first, “Time for Bed,” as a movie with Universal. Mark Mylod (“Ali G Is in Da House”) is attached to direct. He is discussing the second, “Whatever Loves Means,” with Ruby Films.

Baddiel’s unusual deal with Winchester arose out of his belief that too many British comedy films suffer from being built around a performer, rather than a script.

“The money should go to ideas, scripts, writers, rather than to stars from television,” he says. “I want to start from the ideas and work forward, rather than start from the talent and work backwards.”

He has already had meetings with 40 writers and has another 20 scheduled. He has commissioned eight treatments so far. He will not reveal the identity of the writers selected, but admits that he has received pitches from such big-names of Brit TV comedy as Jonathan Ross and Angus Deayton.

A few months away

He will start commissioning scripts early next year, paying $45,000 a pop.

The original idea was to commission 10 treatments, then three scripts, but the strength of the submissions has expanded the plan to 15 treatments and up to five scripts.

“What we’re doing, in a cottage way, is setting up a little studio system, with Winchester’s backing,” says Baddiel. “I’m improvisationally putting people together, and I will be involved in casting and in choosing directors.”

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