‘Rocket Post’ gets late delivery

Corrections were made to this column on Oct.23, 2006.

LONDON — When your company is involved in running the largest cinema chain in Europe, you’d think it would be easy to get any film screened that you want — particularly a film you bankrolled out of your own pocket.

But it didn’t quite work that way for Guy Hands, the high-profile financier whose Terra Firma Capital Partners gives investment advice to the private equity fund that owns the Odeon and UCI circuits in Blighty.

In fact, it has taken him several years to find a way to get his movie “The Rocket Post” into British cinemas. Lionsgate U.K. has finally agreed to release it Nov. 24 across Scotland on about 20 prints, but the chances of a wider run in England remain slight.

The checkered history of “Rocket Post” is a textbook tale of naivete, tragedy and bad blood. It was the second of two projects from producer Mark Shorrock that Hands agreed to finance — the other, David Blair’s 2001 celeb satire “Tabloid,” remains unreleased.

“Rocket Post,” the feature debut of 56-year-old TV helmer Stephen Whittaker, was also shot way back in 2001 with a $10 million budget from Hands. It’s a bittersweet Hebridean romance, set just before WWII, loosely based on the true story of a young German scientist who experimented with using rockets to deliver the mail to a remote Scottish island.

The shoot itself was plagued by location problems, budget overruns and mounting tensions between Hands and Shorrock, who then fell out over the editing and the music. In the midst of the protracted post-production squabbles, Whittaker died of cancer. Hands took over the film, and staged reshoots in 2003. He even coined a new title for himself — “creative director.”

Veteran sales agent Kathy Morgan screened the film at markets. Pic won the Grand Prize at the Stony Brook Festival in Long Island, and distribution deals were signed in territories such as Australasia, Germany, France, Japan and Scandinavia. In Scotland, where the local media had given extensive coverage to the troubled production, people even started buying the DVD from a Danish Web site.

In late ’04, Odeon was sold to the Terra Firm Capital Partners II Fund. Hands considered showing his films at Odeon cinemas in London, but, scrupulous to avoid any conflict of interest, had second thoughts.

In the end, he approached Lionsgate U.K. personally and asked the company to distribute the movie as a favor — but he made clear they wouldn’t get any special support from his cinemas.

Lionsgate hopes the local curiosity factor in Scotland will generate a decent turnout. Such is the pic’s high profile in the Scottish media that most of the local exhibitors, and not just Odeon/UCI, are booking it.

The whole experience is enough to put anyone off the movie industry. Shorrock quit film producing a couple of years ago in favor of the alternative-energy biz. He’s about to float his green venture capital firm Low Carbon Accelerator on the London stock market.

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