Dyke backs BBC Pix

Unit gets thumbs up; Yentob to pick direction

LONDON — The future of BBC Films is up for grabs.

The pubcaster’s new director general Greg Dyke has thrown his weight behind the creation of “a significant new film division” under the leadership of creative supremo Alan Yentob, the new director of drama, entertainment and children’s programming.

One of Yentob’s first tasks in his new role will be to decide what form that increased commitment to the movie biz should take.

But one thing, at least, is clear: BBC Films has dodged the very real threat that Dyke would opt to abolish it entirely.

“It could have gone either way,” said one BBC Films insider. “Greg could have decided not to be involved in film at all. We told him, ‘You’ve got to do it or not do it, but you can’t carry on half doing it, as we have been.’ ”

Dyke’s announcement seems certain to mean bigger investments in more commercial movies and closer cooperation between BBC Films and BBC Worldwide, the pubcaster’s commercial arm.

It could even mean the formation of a separate film company a la FilmFour, though that idea has been kicked around several times before without getting off the ground.

Whatever the new structure, the BBC is likely to make fewer films, but take a more active creative and financial role in them.

In between

BBC Films currently exists in a kind of twilight zone between TV drama and the film industry, with a development slate that spans both sides. Its chief, David Thompson, is head of telepics as well as theatrical features, and his future role is likely to be a key issue for Yentob to address.

BBC Films spends around $11 million a year to co-finance theatrical movies. BBC Worldwide has separately committed to invest $60 million over five years into the international rights to pics developed by BBC Films.

Recent pics backed by the BBC include “Born Romantic,” “Pandemonium,” “Love, Honour and Obey,” “Maybe Baby,” “Mansfield Park” and “About Adam.”

These films have been made despite strong opposition from some quarters within the BBC to the whole notion of the pubcaster spending its money on film production.

BBC2 controller Jane Root has made it clear she would prefer the coin be invested in original TV drama.

TV distribution

That has caused an acute political problem for Thompson, since BBC2 — the pubcaster’s more experimental and artistic channel — is the destination for most of his pics. Root thus has an important voice in what he has been able to make.

Yentob was formerly Root’s boss as director of television, and still outranks her in his new post. His appointment should thus eliminate the ambiguity that previously existed over who shapes the destiny of BBC Films.

“The BBC is devising a strategy that would mean we could greenlight films outside the channel commissioning structure,” said a BBC Worldwide source. “Essentially, it has been handed to Alan to decide how to do this, but there is no doubt Greg is interested in seeing the BBC up its game.”

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