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Ridley signs docmaker Rothschild to comedy

Any Hollywood player curious to learn more about the latest British filmmaker to get the transatlantic wires buzzing should drop by the Getty Center in Los Angeles on the evening of October 15.

That’s when Hannah Rothschild, co-founder of the Artists on Film Trust, will be giving a lecture about rare footage of early 20th century painters such as Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Pablo Picasso, captured on camera in the midst of creating their masterpieces.

Doesn’t sound very Hollywood? Think again. Ridley Scott has just beaten off the competition to sign up Rothschild to write and direct her first movie for his production outfit Scott Free. And it’s not a worthy biopic of some dead dauber. “Gene Machine” is a high-concept comedy about a man whose student career as a prolific sperm donor comes back to haunt him 20 years later.

If that appears incongruous, it doesn’t seem so to Rothschild, the 41-year-old daughter of the legendary London financier Lord Jacob Rothschild. She may have spent most of her career making arts documentaries for the BBC, but she says, “Even in the esoteric arts stuff, I’ve always tried to find the broader appeal. I used Joan Collins to front one film, which I suppose shows an early tendency towards the mass market.”

Her 2001 doc on the Anglo-German painter Frank Auerbach was described by Brit portaitist Lucien Freud as “unquestionably the greatest documentary made about an artist.”

She used her earnings from this film to bankroll her prize-winning short, “Eddie Loves Mary,” a heart-warming drama about how the mysterious graffiti of the title stirs unexpected romance in the hearts of numerous Eddies and Marys.

Working Title has approached her to develop the short into a full-length movie, but she confesses that she has been too busy yet to respond. She has just completed another script, “First Love,” which her agent Duncan Heath is about to send out.

She set up the Artists on Film Trust with a friend in 1996 to collect and preserve documentary footage and photographs of artists at work and being interviewed. Jean Renoir, himself one of the greatest directors of all time, filmed his father: “You can see Renoir whose hands are so deformed by arthritis that he can hardly hold his brush, sitting in a bath chair and painting some of his greatest masterpieces. That tells you more than any biography.”

On second thoughts, studio execs should save themselves the drive up to the Getty. Her lecture is sold out already. Perhaps that’s a good omen for her new filmmaking career.

Council rescues “Ladies”

The U.K. Film Council stepped in last week to save Charles Dance’s directorial debut “Ladies In Lavender” from shutdown. The crew, which hadn’t been paid for over a week, was hours from walking out when Premiere Fund topper Robert Jones responded to an emergency call from producer Elizabeth Karlsen, raising the Film Council’s investment from $1.8 million to $3.2 million and releasing cashflow for the production.

The period pic, starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, began shooting Sep. 15 with its financing still not closed, a situation regrettably common for a British movie. The initial cashflow from equity investor Paradigm rapidly ran out before Karlsen, who was only brought on board to sort things out a week before shooting started, could cement the other pieces of the complex funding puzzle. The Film Council’s intervention saved the day, and the pic is now fully financed.

“Creep” traps Potente

German actress Franka Potente is taking the lead role in “Creep,” a British horror pic set underneath London’s streets.

The $5.6 million movie, by first-time writer/director Chris Smith, has been pre-sold to Pathe in the U.K. and X-Filme in Germany, with Capitol Films handling international sales.

Potente plays a girl trapped after hours in the Tube. Menaced by an unknown assailant, she stumbles in the secret world of tunnels that lies beneath the city. Sean Harris co-stars, and producer is Julie Baines.

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