Partnership will release 2-3 films a year

Fox Searchlight says its new financing pact with British media investor Ingenious Media will help fill the hole left when the U.K. Film Council — an important source of funding for Blighty pics — was abolished last year.

This initiative has grown out “the perception that there is opportunity and need in the U.K.,” Searchlight co-prexy Stephen Gilula told Variety. “We think the pool of British talent is underutilized.”

Nonexclusive deal will make Ingenious into Searchlight’s largest financing partner and will allow the studio to boost its slate from three to six films per year to something more like five to nine.

Gilula says he hopes to put one to two films into production next year and hit the goal of two to three by 2013. Feature pics funded through Ingenious will be budgeted under $15 million; Searchlight will hold on to worldwide distribution rights.

And while Searchlight plans to use U.K. talent, Ingenious-financed projects will not be limited to shooting in the U.K. and will target a wide audience.

“Our films that are made with U.K. talent (will be) designed, hopefully, to be distributed to the global marketplace,” Gilula said.

The two outfits have previously collaborated on more than 40 pics, including “Notes on a Scandal,” “127 Hours” and the upcoming “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” helmed by John Madden and starring Judi Dench.

The union also comes after the expiration of Fox Searchlight’s financing deal with DNA Films, the shingle behind “Never Let Me Go,” “Sunshine” and “The Last King of Scotland.”

DNA will continue to be a Searchlight production partner.

New deal, which did not come with an expiration date, came about when Ingenious chief exec James Clayton approached Searchlight about financing and developing more projects. While Searchlight will benefit from the extra financing, Ingenious can take advantage of Fox’s worldwide distribution capability.

Ingenious is preparing to appoint a fulltime London exec to work with Searchlight.

Ingenious was established by Patrick McKenna, former topper of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group, and has put up coin for such pics as “Avatar,” “Night at the Museum,” “Shaun of the Dead” and “X-Men: Origins.”

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