Lelouch’s ‘rookie’ team

Claude Lelouch’s “And Now . . . Ladies & Gentlemen,” the closing-night pic at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, marks the debut of two rookie British producers, who just happen to boast 80 years of industry experience between them.

Rick Senat and Paul Hitchcock, both former Warner Bros. veterans, have formed Poster Pictures, to act as the U.K. co-producer of major international movies.

The 52-year-old Senat retired 18 months ago from his post as head of European legal and business affairs for Warner Bros., after 24 years at the studio. He’s still deputy chairman of the British Film Institute, vice chair of the European Film Academy and a shareholder in Hammer Films.

The 70-year-old Hitchcock served as managing director of Warner Bros. Prods. in Europe from 1969-94 before going freelance as the exec producer of such pics as “Mission: Impossible” and “M:I2” and co-producer of “The Man in the Iron Mask” and “First Knight.”

But Lelouch’s movie is the first straight producer credit for both of them. Of course, as Senat scrupulously points out, in reality, there’s only ever one producer on Lelouch’s films, and that’s the director himself.

But Senat pulled together the U.K. co-production coin that was essential to make the film happen, and Hitchcock set up the British end of the shoot. The film stars Jeremy Irons and Patricia Kaas, with a mixture of French and English dialogue and locations.

“I’ve known Claude for many years,” explains Senat, who has a French wife and speaks the language fluently. “Warner optioned the remake rights to several of his films, and hardly made any of them, though we did finance the sequel to ‘A Man and a Woman.’ ”

Warner also passed on “And Now . . . Ladies & Gentleman.” “But when my retirement was announced, Claude walked into my office and asked if I wanted to do it,” Senat recalls.

Senat turned to his old friend Hitchcock for help with the logistics. The pair are an entertaining study in contrasts. Senat is smooth, cautious and diplomatic, as befits someone who spent a quarter of a century steering a particularly guarded studio through the shoals of European law and politics.

Hitchcock, by contrast, delights in offering frank and pungent opinions about anything and anybody. Senat listens amusedly while his partner lobs his grenades, then glides in to defuse them.

They are looking to get involved with perhaps one big pic a year. That could be a U.S. studio project shooting in the U.K., or another Euro co-production — the next Lelouch pic, for example. Through Senat’s interest in Hammer, Poster also is looking to produce remakes of classic Brit horror pics, possibly starting with “The Abominable Snowman.”

Emily Watson writes, produces

Not content with her stellar career as an actress, Emily Watson is spreading her wings as a writer and producer. Her shingle, Cacka Boom, has teamed up with Andrew Bendel’s Blue Horizon Prods. to adapt Andrew Greig’s novel “That Summer.” She and her partner Jack Waters will write the screenplay, about the love affair between a young Royal Air Force pilot and a radar operator during the run-up to the Battle of Britain in 1940. Watson and Waters already have penned an original screenplay, “Smith & Son,” which is doing the rounds in Hollywood.

Meanwhile, insiders say Watson, who will be at Cannes to support Paul Thomas Anderson’s competition entry “Punch Drunk Love” and to raise finance for “That Summer,” will be feted with a special festival trophy and a dinner in her honor.

Council saves Commission

The permanently cash-starved London Film Commission has been temporarily rescued by the Film Council, until a long-term solution to its funding crisis can be sorted out. The Film Council has used the old shell of British Screen Finance to take over ownership of the LFC for a period of about six months. After that it will be refloated as an independent entity, with coin coming from the Film Council, the London Development Agency and other sources. Sue Hayes continues to run the LFC, under the chairmanship of Brian Yell.

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