Brits write new development script

The U.K. is bracing for a slump in film production but gearing up for a boom in script development.

Just days after the government announced its latest crackdown on tax funding for British movies, the U.K. Film Council unveiled seven winners from the 28 bidders who applied for its new development slate deals.

The victorious groupings include seasoned producers such as Stephen Woolley, Barnaby Thompson, Jeremy Thomas, Alison Owen and Michael Darlow, partnered with an array of distribs (Tartan, Pathe, Momentum, Icon), sales agents (Capitol Films, HanWay, Intandem), broadcasters (FilmFour, BBC Films) and foreign co-producers (Killer Films, Ascendant Pictures, IFC, the Irish Film Board).

The UKFC will provide these partnerships with a total of £7.5 million ($14.5 million) over three years. The groups will invest an equal sum from their own pockets, representing a significant injection of fresh commercial coin into British scripts at a time when production funding is melting away.

The irony doesn’t escape Hannah Leader of Capitol, which with its L.A.-based partner Ascendant is making a substantial investment in British scripts for the first time — $750,000 a year to match the $750,000 awarded by the UKFC. It will spread the coin around a family of five production companies, including Tiger Aspect Films and Samuelson Prods.

“We will only be investing in scripts we intend to make,” she says. “But it’s going to be harder to make them as British films. They might end up as European co-productions.”

In its first three years, the UKFC’s development fund invested $10 million in more than 150 scripts, of which just five have yet been produced. Another $12 million went into slate deals with 22 production companies, resulting in eight pics so far, including Danny Boyle‘s “Millions” and Terry Gilliam‘s “Tideland.”

Three years is not a long time to start a development slate from scratch, so those figures aren’t as bad as they look. But the UKFC clearly wants to up the conversion rate, although it’s careful not to say so explicitly. By involving distribs in all script decisions, it hopes to encourage a more purposeful, market-driven approach to development.

“It’s about getting the right things made the right way,” says UKFC development chief Jenny Borgars. “Whether production is in a boom or bust cycle, you’ve always got to offer up the best possible material from development. We have brought into these slates a large number of industry partners, with many ways to test what the market wants and potentially to unblock the bottlenecks.”

And if it turns out that the market wants fewer Brit pics after the tax-fueled glut of recent years? “There would be nothing to stop people developing fewer projects but spending more money on them,” she says.

‘Beauty’ rushes to small screen

Richard Eyre’s theatrical flop “Stage Beauty” is being rushed to British network TV just three months after its U.K. cinema bow, in an unusual effort to revive the prospects for its DVD release.

The BBC, which co-financed the 17th century romantic drama starring Billy Crudup and Clare Danes, scheduled it to screen Dec. 18, a week ahead of its DVD release via Momentum Pictures. Momentum opened the pic in theaters Sep.3, grossing a limp $900,000 despite a relatively wide 170-print release and healthy marketing spend.

The BBC is hoping to capitalize on the awareness generated by the recent theatrical campaign to deliver strong pre-Christmas ratings on its minority web BBC2.

Momentum, on the other hand, reckons the pic’s DVD prospects were so poor anyway, it’s worth the experiment to see whether they can be boosted by quick TV exposure.

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