Film Council caps its head count

The U.K. Film Council won’t get any bigger. But despite a steep decline in its lottery funding, it’s not about to get much smaller either.

That’s the conclusion of an intense debate that recently took place on the Film Council board to hammer out its budget until 2007.

The org has committed to an unchanged budget of £65 million ($104 million) a year for the next three years. But it’s reordering its priorities, with the coin freed up by the end of the lottery franchises in 2004 set to be redistributed wholesale into training.

Faced with widespread concern about the Film Council’s ballooning overheads, the board rejected a proposal for a further expansion in head count over the coming year. Instead, the org has pledged to shave its staff numbers and screw down its operating costs.

When it was launched in 2000 to be the main conduit for public coin into the British film industry, the Film Council was supposed to employ no more than 50 staff. That figure has now reached 80, which has drawn fire at a time when most film companies are tightening their belts.

The Film Council is now suffering from financial pressures of its own. Weak sales of lotto tickets have caused its share of lottery revenues to shrink from $56 million a year to $40 million. The balance of its funding, which comes direct from the government, is static. It has also recouped far less than predicted from the lottery franchises.

But the shortfall will be made up by the money that is starting to flow back from the org’s own production funds — not just from obvious hits such as “Gosford Park” and “Bend It Like Beckham,” but also from sharp deals cut on arthouse movies.

The org is also sweating the pics it inherited from the Arts Council. Fellow investor BBC Films was shocked to discover that the Film Council had cut a secret side deal with Universal Pictures to accelerate its recoupment from “Billy Elliot.”

“There are always ways of getting money back faster, and what we did hasn’t affected anyone else’s position,” argues one Film Council insider. Such a ruthless pursuit of cash is likely to become ever more characteristic as the Film Council becomes ever more reliant on its recoupment to sustain its budget.

Hauptman on L.A. mission

After nine years living in London, U.S.-born Andrew Hauptman and his Canadian wife Ellen Bronfman are relocating to Los Angeles in September.

Hauptman and Bronfman (daughter of former Seagram co-chair Charles and cousin of Edgar Jr.) run their own family investment shingle, Andell. This owns, among other things, the British film producer Mission Pictures plus a significant stake in L.A.-based TV outfit Dick Clark Prods. and a useful chunk of Vivendi Universal.

Family reasons lie behind the move. But it will also enable the 34-year-old Hauptman, chairman of Mission, to give that company a higher profile in Hollywood as Mission steps up its trans-Atlantic production slate.

Mission is finalizing John McKay’s “Piccadilly Jim,” adapted by Julian Fellowes from a P.G. Wodehouse novel, and set to star Sam Rockwell, Tom Wilkinson and Kathy Bates. The company is also pushing forward with Mark Mylod’s “A Romantic Comedy About Divorce,” set in Gotham and London; Gilliam Armstrong’s pastoral comedy “Seventh Heaven”; and an untitled Dominic Savage project.

Hauptman is looking to hire a production exec to work with him in Los Angeles.

Mission’s production efforts will continue to be run in London by Graham Broadbent and Peter Czernin. Co-founder Damian Jones ankled a few weeks ago to fly solo as a producer, although he retains a non-exclusive deal with Mission. The company was formed two years ago when Andell took over Jones and Broadbent’s Dragon Pictures.

Since then it has released “Thunderpants” and has two pics in post — Danny Boyle’s buzz project “Millions” for Pathe and the spoof “Gladiatress” for Icon.

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