C4 keeps book's rights despite FilmFour demise

LONDON — Channel 4 has confirmed it will continue to develop the movie version of Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel “The Lovely Bones,” to be directed by Lynne Ramsay, despite shutting down its film company FilmFour Ltd.

The web has been inundated with inquiries from Hollywood studios and producers about the status of the project, ever since it announced FilmFour’s closure in July.

C4 chief exec Mark Thompson has now identified “The Lovely Bones” as the first of perhaps a dozen FilmFour projects that the web will keep for its new inhouse film unit.

The web is setting up this much smaller division to replace FilmFour, focusing mainly on low-budget British projects. However, “The Lovely Bones” falls way outside that mandate, with its American setting and $15 million budget.

Ultimately, C4’s involvement will likely be confined to an onscreen credit and a U.K. TV deal, with the producers raising the remainder of the financing from Hollywood sources.

Pic is being produced by Aimee Peyronnet and Jim Wilson, who will exit as FilmFour’s deputy head of production when the company finally shuts down at the end of the December.

FilmFour optioned “The Lovely Bones” two years ago as a half-finished manuscript. No one then suspected that this seemingly dark tale — narrated by a 14-year-old girl from beyond the grave after she has been raped and murdered — would become a word-of-mouth publishing sensation.

The book has been at or near the top of the New York Times hardback bestseller list for the past 14 weeks. It was this success which triggered the flood of studio interest in the movie project.

Despite rumors of interest from directors as high-profile as Steven Spielberg, Ramsay remains firmly contracted to the project. The Scottish auteur, touring U.S. festivals with her sophomore movie “Morvern Callar” (set for U.S. release in December via Cowboy) is writing the screenplay with her regular partner Liana Dognini, and aims to shoot next summer.

Ramsay, whose work to date has been uncompromisingly arthouse, seems unfazed to find herself suddenly responsible for adapting a best-seller. When Ramsay first came aboard two years back, the book’s dark themes made it an unlikely contender for such status. But now it could be the springboard for her crossover to a wider audience.

“I thought it would be popular, but not on this level,” Ramsay says. “I felt that there was something there, in the girl’s voice from this limbo place, that would make a really strong film. The book is quite epic and takes place over about 20 years, whereas our script will be more the pure idea of the book over the time span of a year.”

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