Winterbottom goes sci-fi

British director Michael Winterbottom never stops working, and he never repeats himself. After taking on the California gold rush in “The Claim,” the Manchester music scene in “24 Hour Party People” and the plight of Afghan refugees in his upcoming “The Silk Road,” he is stepping into sci-fi with his next project, “Code 46.” Scripted by his regular collaborator Frank Cottrell Boyce, it’s a love story set in the future, about a man who has an affair with a younger woman. The couple find themselves being hunted by the authorities when it turns out the woman has been cloned from the DNA of the man’s mother. The $7.5 million pic is being developed under the first-look deal between Winterbottom’s Revolution Films and United Artists, with UA set to take at least North American and possibly all worldwide rights. Shooting is scheduled for the end of 2002, once Winterbottom has completed “The Silk Road.”

Trekkie takes on “Thunderbirds”

Jonathan Frakes is set to direct the long-awaited bigscreen version of cult TV series “Thunderbirds” for Working Title Films. Frakes is best known as a Trekkie — he has played Commander William Riker on TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation” since 1987, and directed and co-starred in “Star Trek: Insurrection” and “Star Trek: First Contact.” Working Title has been developing “Thunderbirds” for many years, originally for Peter Hewitt to direct. More recently it took the project back to the drawing board, rethinking it as a kids movie (reflecting the core audience for the 28-year-old TV series, which is a big video seller for the under-10s) instead of an adult actioner. “Thunderbirds” recounts the exploits of International Rescue, a secretive family organization with lots of cool rockets that are used to save people in peril. The TV series used puppets and models — the movie will be live-action.

Plath pic loses director

Director Pawel Pawlikowski has ankled the Sylvia Plath biopic (aka “Ted and Sylvia”), starring Gwyneth Paltrow, to which he had been attached. An insider, who describe his departure as “amicable on all sides,” says Pawlikowski was uncomfortable with the constraints of working within a script and a conventional shooting schedule. His own filmmaking method, represented by the award-winning “Last Resort,” relies heavily upon improvisation. A new director is expected to be announced shortly. The pic is being produced by Ruby Films for BBC Films, Focus and Capitol Films. Meanwhile, Pawlikowski remains under contract to shoot his next movie for BBC Films.

Tax scare spooks producers

Her Majesty’s Treasury dropped a tax bombshell on the British film industry a couple of weeks ago, apparently by mistake. It issued an obscure new amendment to the tax break rules, banning “chains” of sale and leaseback deals on a single film. Its intention apparently was to prevent a scam whereby tax relief is claimed several times over on the same movie. But, to the horror of the few producers who even noticed the new clause, the actual wording also would have blown a hole in the new-style “tax equity” funds, pioneered by companies such as Baker Street, and would exclude foreign co-productions from claiming tax relief. Cue what one producer calls “three days of panic” as the industry saw many of its financing structures disappearing down the plughole. Government officials then admitted they had never intended all these drastic side effects to what they saw as a minor tweak in the rules, and promised to come up with revised wording to avoid these problems. So everything’s all right, then? Well, not necessarily. Until the Treasury formally clarifies its intent, nothing is certain, except that tax lawyers will earn a pretty penny giving their opinions.

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