Territory Reports: Great Britain

LONDON — While many a German distrib has seen its fortunes dwindle recently, thanks to the fall of the Neuer Markt exchange, British players have been getting bigger and bolder by the minute.

A handful of indies has moved through the ranks over the past couple of years and joined Entertainment, which has long been the dominant force in the U.K. indie arena, in the fight for bigger product. With UGC and former Polygram chief Stewart Till announcing plans to venture into U.K. distribution, there could soon be even more competish.

Through a variety of shareholder changes, new alliances and lottery funding, older companies like Helkon, the Alliance Atlantis-backed Momentum Pictures, Icon and Pathe now have more clout than before. Through its joint acquisitions pact with Pathe, FilmFour’s distribution arm has entered the arena for bigger titles as well, though its mandate to offer commercial fare is hard to recognize by its box office share.

“It is certainly more competitive than three or four years ago,” says David Kosse, managing director of Momentum Pictures. “The U.K. has always been a tough market because it’s a market where the studios are also interested in the indie pics to put into their output deals. The indies can’t compete with them especially in terms of selling to TV.”

While television is getting ever tougher, there was some room for good cheer all round with the best box office results since 1972, in terms of admissions, with over 156 million tickets sold. Meanwhile, new incentives proposed by the government should help boost specialty films.

TV prices case

“In general it was a good year,” says Simon Franks of Helkon. “Exhibition was fairly robust, video/rental was strong, although TV was a problem. There was an easing of prices, which is not good news for the indies. In pay TV the situation is even worse. It’s killing indigenous companies.”

Still there is some ground to cover with local productions, which, besides “Bridget Jones’s Diary” (a U.S.-U.K. co-production) hardly get a second look.

“The market here is just set up for studios, which is why you have no big indies,” Franks says. “In other countries, the big companies are indies and that’s why they can afford to invest in local production. Most U.K. films have no distributor involvement, which tells why there is no success for local pics.”

Active arthouse end

Though there is a slew of smaller players active in the U.K., only one additional distrib, Optimum Releasing, made it into the U.K. top 100 last year. Still companies like Artificial Eye, Metrodom and Metro Tartan play it out at the arthouse end of the market. And their fates could also change thanks to a proposed initiative by U.K. support body, the Film Council to inject an annual £1 million ($ 1.4 million) to put up P&A for arthouse movies. An additional movies. A further $15 million pounds (U.S. $21.2 million) has been earmarked under the proposal for specialist exhibition circuits.

Thanks to its output deal with New Line, Entertainment remained king of the indies last year, following the success of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” and “Rush Hour 2,” which landed the third and 17th spots at the box office .

Winning with imports

For Helkon, its best pic of the year proved to be “Jeepers Creepers,” which came in at rank 33 making 6.2 million pounds (U.S. $8.48 million) Pathe, which though it has been around for a few years and had its first real hit last year with “Chicken Run,” had less success this year. Its highest ranked film came in at 34 with “Enemy at the Gates,” which made U.S.$ 4.2 million (STG 3.9 million). For Momentum Pictures, “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle,” “Amelie,” “Get Over It” and “The 51st State” proved the best titles of the year.

Icon had its best performer with “What Women Want.” Pic came in at No. 11 making U.S. $24 million (STG 17 million). “Heartbreakers” followed at No. 49 making U.S. $4.2 million (STG 3.4 million).

FilmFour meanwhile struggled to find an audience with its own productions, “Lucky Break,” coming in at No. 81 with $1.4 million (STG 1.2 million). “Sexy Beast” came in in the top 100 at $1.1 million.

U.K. titles at AFM:

New Best Friend

Zoe Clarke-Williams’ teen thriller stars Dominique Swain, Taye Diggs, Mia Kirshner and Meredith Monroe in a story about a social climbing outcast who gets more than she bargained for when she befriends the wrong crowd. Sales: Winchester.

Before You Go

Lewis Gilbert, (“Shirley Valentine,” “Educating Rita”) directs Julie Walters, John Hannah, Joanne Whalley and Tom Wilkinson in a comedy about sisters who discover the mother they never really knew after her death. At the funeral, skeletons come tumbling out of cupboards and fond delusions are demolished as each of the sisters’ wholly imperfect lives is revealed. Sales: Capitol Films

Doctor Sleep

Goran Visnjic, Miranda Otto and Shirley Henderson star in this thriller about a hunt for a ritualistic serial killer that turns into a deadly game of cat and mouse. Based on the novel by Madison Smartt Bell. Sales: The Works

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