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Livingstone’s serve

David Livingstone, the long-serving yet boyish president of marketing for Universal Pictures Intl., has taken on an unusual dual role as producer of the upcoming Working Title movie “Wimbledon.” Livingstone will share the producer credit, his first, with Mary Richards and WT honchos Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan.

Livingstone has been central in the marketing of just about every one of WT’s hits, from “Four Weddings and a Funeral” onward. Bringing him in earlier in the creative process is an innovative bit of thinking by Bevan and Fellner, and a natural evolution of his role.

“It’s a unique opportunity for me to get involved in taking something seamlessly from making the film to bringing it to the audience,” Livingstone says. “Too often the producer builds up good relationships with the talent on a film set, and then has to throw them out to a bunch of marketing people they haven’t met before.”

Pic, directed by Richard Loncraine, is a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of the All-England Lawn Tennis Championships, starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst. Shooting starts in June.

Germans stalk Odeon

German investment bank West LB is in talks to buy Odeon Cinemas, the U.K.’s largest chain, from private equity group Cinven. A West LB spokesman describes the negotiations as “fairly advanced,” and likely to be concluded within a matter of weeks. No pricetag has been revealed at this stage; the value is estimated at around £400 million ($630 million). Odeon has 608 screens across 97 sites.

Cinven bought Odeon three years ago from Rank for $380 million and merged it with the Virgin/ABC chain, for which it paid $106 million in 1996. The combined chain had a loss of $11 million in 2001, but is expected to report a profit for 2002.

Ownership is currently in a state of considerable flux across the U.K. exhibition business. With box office booming, investors clearly think it’s a good time to cash out. Ster Century is selling its British theaters, Cine-UK is open to offers and there’s doubt over Vivendi Universal’s commitment to UCI, its joint venture with Viacom. In the arthouse sector, consolidation already has taken place with the alliance of leading programmers City Screen and Zoo.

The assassination of ‘David Gale’

The critical savaging for Alan Parker’s “The Life of David Gale” in the U.S. came as a huge shock for Universal Pictures, which was convinced from all its test screenings, focus groups and industry word of mouth that it was onto a winner with the capital punishment thriller starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet. But the pic barely hobbled past $7 million on its opening weekend, and now will do well to reach $25 million.

“I think the press have cut the box office in half,” confides one studio insider. U execs are scratching around for an explanation: Do the American critics resent a Brit preaching to them about the death penalty? Do they dislike this issue being exploited for entertainment? Or, given the personal tone of some reviews, do they just have something against Parker?

It will be a big challenge for UIP, now headed by Parker’s close buddy Stewart Till, to salvage something from the pic’s foreign rollout, which starts March 14 on Parker’s home turf in Blighty. But amid Europe’s current anti-American mood, it might just have a chance.

Ross takes no credit

Tessa Ross, head of the new FilmFour, has declared that neither she nor her staff will take executive producer credits on the unit’s movies. Ross (who had an exec producer tag on “Billy Elliot” when she was at the BBC) says her job is to rebuild Channel 4’s filmmaking operations, not to plump her own resume.

That sounds like a trivial decision, but to the U.K.’s super-sensitive production community, it has an important symbolism. It hangs out a big welcome sign to those experienced producers who complained the old FilmFour was too eager to squeeze them out of the picture in its desire to have direct relationships with directors and writers.

Ross also is setting FilmFour apart from the Film Council and BBC Films, both of which cause varying degrees of resentment by taking exec producer credits on movies in which they invest their public coin. In fact, the Film Council did not originally want to do so, but bowed to the request of Robert Jones and ——– who head its Premiere Fund and New Cinema Fund, respectively — that they be allowed to negotiate personal credits, to compensate for the fact that they were putting their own producing careers on hold.

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