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CARLTON BUY OF RANK A DONE DEAL

LONDON — Carlton Communications has finally completed the acquisition of Rank Film Distributors for £65 million ($107 million), immediately renaming the company Carlton/RFD Ltd.

At the same time Fred Turner announced his retirement as managing director of RFD, and business affairs director George Helyer was confirmed as his successor.

RFD’s main asset is its library of 740 feature films, mostly old British titles topped up with more recent American co-productions such as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “To Die For.”

The company also includes a U.K. theatrical distribution arm and an international sales operation, through which RFD co-finances U.S. and British movies in return for foreign rights.

But the big question now is whether Carlton intends to keep RFD in the production and acquisition business, or whether it is only interested in exploiting the library. That remains a matter for debate within Carlton, which has never previously shown much enthusiasm for risky investments in the creative process.

Carlton execs said Wednesday that it would be “business as usual” at RFD, at least until they have time to complete a thorough review of all the company’s activities.

But the press statement by Carlton chairman Michael Green conspicuously failed to mention film production or theatrical distribution, while dwelling on the value of the library to the company’s broadcasting channels.

“The demand for classic and contemporary films both in the U.K. and overseas is increasing all the time,” Green said. “By adding RFD’s prestigious collection of British and international films to our library we will enhance our position as a leading content supplier to the growing number of television channels around the world.

“We also have plans for our own film channel on digital terrestrial television. The Rank film library will help ensure that it rapidly wins support from audiences and advertisers,” he added.

In the meantime, proposals for new film productions will be considered on a case-by-case basis. But there are currently very few new projects coming down the pipeline at RFD, partly because the longstanding uncertainty over the company’s ownership has made it hard to attract producers.

RFD has a co-financing deal with Brad Krevoy, which has resulted in two pics so far. A third, “Death in High Heels,” is coming up for consideration, but still has not got a final script or a cast.

Carlton has indicated that it will continue RFD’s co-production deal for British comedy pics with rival ITV producer Granada Film, which has so far generated one film, “Up on the Roof.” But again there’s no sign of a second project in the pipeline.

Carlton plans to continue with RFD as a U.K. distributor, although RFD’s current joint venture with Castle Rock-Turner expires at the end of this year and looks certain not to be renewed.

It’s several years since Rank has risked its own money on big theatrical acquisitions for the U.K., after being badly burned on Castle Rock’s “North” and “Shawshank Redemption.” It’s unclear whether Carlton will have any greater appetite for gambling the millions of dollars it takes to buy and release major movies in the U.K.

Carlton does have its own embryonic film production arm within its ITV company, due to make two low-budget pics this year, increasing to around four a year in the long term. Possible synergies between Carlton Films and Carlton/RFD will be explored in the coming weeks.

The sale of RFD means that the Rank Group’s film activities will now be focused solely on servicing the production industry as a film processing and video duplication company, and as the owner of Pinewood Studios.

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