Unit to focus on family fare

LONDON — Jane Tranter, controller BBC Fiction, unveiled the new structure for BBC Films at a confab on Tuesday, re-affirming the BBC’s commitment to filmmaking and announcing a sharpened focus on family friendly fare.

The major change will be the introduction of a four-member BBC Films board to replace the previous “pyramid hierarchy,” as Tranter described it, of a single department topper, as was the case under David Thompson, the now-departed head of films.

The board is made up of Christine Langan (commissioning editor), Jamie Laurenson (exec producer), Joe Oppenheimer (BBC Films) and Jane Wright (commercial affairs and general manager.)

Langan, Laurenson and Oppenheimer will all report directly to Tranter, who as controller BBC Fiction is already responsible for BBC Films. Wright will report to Claire Evans, head of operations and business affairs at BBC Fiction.

Wright will also chair the weekly board meetings and be responsible for day-to-day operations, finance and distribution.

Langan will manage the development slate. Laurenson will work with digital channel BBC 4 while Oppenheimer will oversee the BBC’s relationship with HBO Films.

Though each producer will have a degree of autonomy in handling their individual projects, and will be able to sign off personally on development coin up to $150,000 (£75,000), Tranter must greenlight any pics that go into production. “Someone has always got to rub a stamp and sign a check but quite frankly there’s probably a lot less people doing that now than there were previously,” Tranter told Variety.

“These are millions of pounds we’re signing off on here of public license fee money. Someone has got to take the blame and that will be me, but someone has got to take the creative lead and that will be our producers.”

Family-friendly films, as well as those with an emphasis on natural history and science, will be high on the agenda for future BBC projects.

Development is already underway on family films “Swallows and Amazons,” an adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s novel about four kids on a summer adventure in the British countryside, and “Peter Pan in Scarlet,” the sequel to J.M. Barrie’s classic tale.

BBC Films is working with Harbour Pictures and Headline Pictures, respectively, on the two projects.

BBC Films is also in post on nature doc “The Meerkats,” which marks the company’s first collaboration with the BBC Natural history unit. The BBC is also teaming up with Pathe on a $50 million live-action movie based on Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.”

While Tranter was determinedly positive in her assessment of the BBC’s commitment to film, she remained tight-lipped about the level of funding BBC Films will have access to. The budget currently stands at $20 million (£10 million). A crunch meeting between BBC execs and the BBC Trust is scheduled for Oct. 17, where final spending priorities at the Brit pubcaster will be laid out following the failure of the BBC to achieve its hoped-for rise in the public license fee.

It is unclear if BBC Films will be able to fulfil the ambitious plans it set out in February last year, when it pledged to raise the amount of money it invested in the acquisition and production of British movies to $60 million (£30 million) a year by 2008. Those figures were reliant on the pubcaster receiving the license fee hike.

Tranter remains confident that coin, or lack thereof, won’t be a deal-breaker.

“We’ve got a lot of films that we would like to invest money in, but somehow or other, it will be managed,” said Tranter

There will be much less emphasis on U.S.-set pics with A-list casts, such as Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road,” in favor of more U.K.-oriented projects.

“We won’t be developing so many films that are entirely set in America because the Americans do that,” said Tranter. “But we certainly aren’t going to limit ourselves to just doing films about our island.”

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