It’s a recurring irony of the film business that a company’s hottest project often seems to emerge only after the company itself has reached the end of the road.
So it is with FilmFour. Since its closure was announced by Channel 4 in July, the company has been flooded with inquiries from Hollywood studios and producers hoping to pick up the rights to Alice Sebold’s surprise U.S. bestseller “The Lovely Bones.” FilmFour optioned the book two years ago as a half-written manuscript and signed up Lynne Ramsay to write and direct.
No one then suspected that this debut novel — narrated from beyond the grave by a 14-year-old girl who has been raped and killed — would become a word-of-mouth publishing sensation, spending 14 weeks so far at the top of the New York Times list.
But C4 chief exec Mark Thompson, who made the call to shut down FilmFour, has now confirmed he’s not letting go of the book. “The Lovely Bones” is the first of perhaps a dozen FilmFour projects that Thompson has decided to keep for development through the web’s new inhouse film unit.
That’s despite the fact that the American setting and the $15 million budget place “The Lovely Bones” way outside the mandate Thompson has laid down for the new division, which is to focus on low-budget British movies. Nonetheless, C4 ultimately will be confined to taking U.K. TV rights and an onscreen credit, with the rest of the financing likely to come from Hollywood.
Despite rumors of interest from directors as illustrious as Steven Spielberg, Ramsay remains firmly contracted to the project. The Scottish auteur, currently touring U.S. festivals with her extraordinary sophomore movie “Morvern Callar” (set for U.S. release in December via Cowboy) is writing the screenplay with her regular partner, Liana Dognini, and aims to shoot next summer.
Ramsay, whose work to date has been uncompromisingly arthouse, seems unfazed to find herself suddenly responsible for adapting a best-seller. When she first came aboard two years back, the book’s dark themes made it an unlikely contender for such status. But now it could be the springboard for her crossover to a wider audience.
“I thought it would be popular, but not on this level,” Ramsay says. “I felt that there was something there, in the girl’s voice from this limbo place, that would make a really strong film. The book is quite epic and takes place over about 20 years, whereas our script will be more the pure idea of the book over the timespan of a year.”
Pic is being produced by Aimee Peyronnet and Jim Wilson, who will exit as FilmFour’s deputy head of production when the company finally shuts down at the end of December. Peyronnet, who formerly ran Luc Besson’s shingle at Fox in Los Angeles, was trying to attract studio interest in Sebold’s unfinished manuscript when a Fox insider tipped off Wilson to the project at FilmFour.
FilmFour insiders see the clamor over “The Lovely Bones” as offering some vindication of the company’s ambitious, transatlantic strategy. It’s just a shame that it came too late.
Mills to play bright old thing
He may be 94 years old, but Sir John Mills is still raring for work. Five years since his last movie role (in “Bean”), he has signed up for a cameo role — as a cocaine dealer, no less — in “Bright Young Things,” adapted by Stephen Fry from Evelyn Waugh’s classic satire of the 1930s Mayfair fast set.
At the other end of scale when it comes to bigscreen experience, hot young Royal Shakespeare Company actor Stephen Campbell Moore will make his movie debut in the lead role as the hapless Adam Fenwick-Symes, whose on-off engagement with the doomed Nina Blount (Emily Mortimer) is the focus of the story. Judi Dench, Peter O’Toole and Jim Broadbent fill out a lustrous cast. Pic starts shooting Nov. 4, produced by Andrew Eaton and Michael Winterbottom’s Revolution Films with Fry’s Doubting Hall shingle, backed by coin from the Film Consortium, the Works, Icon and Visionview.