The dissolution of the U.K.’s indie pic producer FilmFour sent shock waves through the U.S. specialty arena Monday. A formal announcement of FilmFour’s fate, expected Monday, will instead be made today. The board of the company’s parent, Channel 4, made no announcement after meeting Monday. But insiders confirmed the indie would be folded back into its parent firm and focus on smaller British films.
Dissolving Channel 4’s standalone film production company comes as a massive blow to the U.K. production community, ending C4’s large-scale production ambitions first evidenced with pics like “Trainspotting” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” While FilmFour saw hits with “Sexy Beast” and “East is East,” the company lost more than $8 million in 2001 and $4.5 million the year before.
“They were producers of some very important indie product,” said Rick Sands, chairman of worldwide distribution for Miramax Films, which was on board to handle North America on two upcoming FilmFour titles — Conor McPherson’s “The Actors,” now in production, and Damien O’Donnell’s “Edgardo Mortara.” That film was to be co-financed by Miramax with Javier Bardem and Anthony Hopkins attached to star.
Last year, FilmFour struck a two-year, non-exclusive pact with Gotham-based Hart Sharp Entertainment, the producers of such pics as “Boys Don’t Cry” and “You Can Count on Me.” They planned to jointly develop, produce and finance roughly three pics a year with budgets north of $6 million. More significantly for Hart Sharp, the pact provided the boutique shingle with a substantial discretionary fund and overhead.
FilmFour now will likely be obliged to repay Hart Sharp for any development funds already spent by the Gotham-based shingle.
In addition, Hart Sharp will look for anther partner on the project the two companies were developing, “Leigh Bowery: The Life and Times of an Icon.”
Then there’s the high-profile development projects like Walter Salles’ next film, the Che Guevara biopic “The Motorcycle Diaries,” to be co-financed with Senator Films; “Mondo Beyondo,” with Ted Hope producing and Terry Gilliam directing; an English-language remake of Lukas Moodysson’s “Together” to be produced with Elizabeth Number 9; and an adaptation of John Franklin Bardin’s novel “The Deadly Percheron” to be developed with Number 9 and Stephen Woolley and Neil Jordan’s Company of Wolves.
As recently as last week, FilmFour announced that they had come aboard “Touching The Void,” a feature doc from Oscar-winning “One Day In September” director Kevin Macdonald. Slated to start production in Peru on July 22, it tells the survival story of two mountaineers who met with disaster on a 1985 climb in a remote part of the Andes.
One domestic entity that had already written off FilmFour is Warner Bros. Pictures, which inked a co-production pact with the U.K. shingle in 2000. Although the deal called for Warners to co-produce some half-dozen FilmFour projects over the three years, the alliance produced just two, both disasters: “Charlotte Gray” and “Death To Smoochy.”
FilmFour also had first-look deals with U.K. production companies David Morrissey’s Tubedale Films, “Crush” producers Pipedream Pictures and Andrea Calderwood’s Slate Films (“Once Upon A Time In The Midlands”).
The demise of FilmFour could also have ripple effects in the Hollywood book trade. When the go-go book market of the mid-1990s flattened out and studios began developing fewer tomes, FilmFour emerged to fill the breach.
The shingle made a series of aggressive buys for works like Elmore Leonard’s “Tishomingo Blues” (with Don Cheadle attached to direct) and Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones.” Rights to these high-profile titles may now be up for grabs.
One U.K. insider on Monday chalked up FilmFour’s demise to larger factors, rather than failed films.
“There are too many films being made in England,” he said. “Too little talent is being chased by too little money. It’s harder and harder to put good independent projects together and that’s what the FilmFour thing reflects.”
The exec remained optimistic: “I think it will come back,” he said. “Perhaps under new leadership. It may just mean that it needs a new creative leader and a couple of hits.”
(Cathy Dunkley and Jonathan Bing in Los Angeles and Adam Dawtrey in London contributed to this report.)