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LOTTERY DRAWS LOTS

Miramax, Mayfair, Ch. 4 seeking U.K. coin

LONDON – Miramax Films is teaming with Mayfair Entertainment Group, in association with Channel 4, to bid for a British film production franchise funded by the national lottery.

Meanwhile, Canada’s Alliance is understood to be backing a franchise bid headed by George Faber, who is leaving his post as the BBC’s head of single drama to become an indie producer.

Another bid will unite several leading British animation companies, including Martin Gates Prods., Carrington Prods. Intl., legendary ”Thunderbirds” producer Gerry Anderson and Cosgrove Hall Films, which is co-owned by Home Box Office and United News & Media.

Three producers that have already received lottery cash for individual projects are also joining forces: Focus Films (”Crimetime”), River Films (”The Woodlanders”) and Edenwood Films (”A Midsummer Night’s Dream”). Their consortium is a partnership with Elstree Studios, which the local Hertsmere Council is currently trying to revive.

The Arts Council of England is planning to award up to four film production franchises next spring, giving the winning groups privileged access to a pool of lottery cash to co-finance British movies. Bidders can apply for a minimum of $10 million and a maximum of $64 million over the six-year duration of the franchises.

Potential bidders had to declare their initial interest by Dec. 16, but now have until Feb. 28 to finalize their applications. The Arts Council received around 170 declarations of interest, but this is expected to boil down to around 50 actual bids.

Miramax is forming a joint company with MEG and its sister sales company Mayfair Entertainment Intl. to make the bid, and the consortium is negotiating a side deal with Channel 4 to develop projects and co-finance pics. The group is also expected to include a number of British producers, but these have not yet been revealed.

Nor have details of the financial relationship between the partners, but it is expected that Miramax will take U.S. rights, while Mayfair Entertainment Intl. will handle international sales. Channel 4, which has its own U.K. theatrical distribution company, would likely take British rights to any pics it co-produces.

David Aukin, head of film at Channel 4, confirmed his serious discussions with the Miramax/Mayfair partnership, but said he is also interested in having relationships with other bidding groups. He sees Channel 4’s role as helping new producers tap into the lottery funds.

Miramax has an active production office in the U.K. headed by Paul Webster, and a meaty slate of British projects scheduled to shoot next year.

Mayfair owns four flagship arthouse cinemas in London’s West End and has stakes in a regional circuit and Shepperton Studios. It is also a minority shareholder in the London sales company Mayfair Entertainment Intl., alongside Canadian investors, and is the second-largest owner and manager of legit theaters in London.

Faber told Daily Variety that he’s putting together a joint venture with a number of partners, whom he did not identify, in order to bid for the $64 million maximum. It is understood that he has struck a housekeeping deal with Alliance, which is planning to launch a U.K. distribution company next year.

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