U.K.’s Channel 4 taps Webster film chief

LONDON — Paul Webster has been appointed the new head of film at Channel Four, reflecting a reorganization of the channel’s involvement in feature films. He will oversee not only the commissioning of feature films but also their theatrical distribution in the U.K. and their sales internationally.

Channel Four is the influential British company that has had a hand in such films as “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Secrets & Lies” and “Trainspotting.”

Webster will take over from David Aukin at the end of January. The appointment was announced Tuesday by Channel Four CEO Michael Jackson.

It had been previously reported that Channel Four was considering a plan to roll its domestic distribution operation, Film Four Distributors, and its international sales arm, Film Four Intl., into the same unit with the production operation (Daily Variety, Nov. 4). Unlike Aukin, Webster will be in charge of all three of these activities.

“In appointing a new head of film, I have seized the opportunity to widen the job to encompass all our film activities,” said Jackson in a statement.

“This greater coordination should equip the channel better for a more competitive era in British filmmaking and Paul is the ideal leader for Channel Four Films in this wider role,” Jackson said.

Webster comes to Channel Four with more than two decades of filmmaking experience on both sides of the Atlantic. He was managing director of theatrical distribber Palace Pictures for six years before moving into production. In 1990 he relocated to Los Angeles to set up and run Working Title’s operation there.

Webster’s credits include four projects for Polygram — “The Tall Guy,” “Drop Dead Fred,” “Bob Roberts” and “Gridlock’d” — as well as “Little Odessa” for Fine Line and “The Pallbearer” for Miramax.

Most recently he was senior exec VP for worldwide production at Miramax Films in London. In that capacity Webster supervised such productions as “The English Patient,” “The Wings of the Dove,” “Welcome to Sarajevo” and “The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.”

“This is unquestionably the best job in the British film industry,” Webster said in a statement. “David Aukin is the toughest act to follow but this was an irresistible opportunity. Since I worked with (managing director of Channel Four Intl.) Colin Leventhal and Channel Four on ‘Letter to Brezhnev’ in 1985, the channel has been at the very heart of British filmmaking. Now the industry is flying higher than ever. It makes absolute sense to consolidate all of Channel Four’s film activity, allowing us to remain on the cutting edge of both commercial and artistic cinema.”

There is a certain irony in Channel Four’s hiring of Webster. It was the vacancy created by his departure from Miramax that recently inspired Miramax to lure away Aukin and Leventhal from the station to head up its London-based operation.

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