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Redbus gets back in saddle again

Brit indie distrib Redbus has finally extricated itself from the wreckage of its defunct German shareholder Helkon.

Helkon, which bought 51% of the British company, went bust in late 2002. Redbus topper Simon Franks and his sidekick Zygi Kamasa had the right to claw back Helkon’s stake, but it took them over two years to complete the necessary legal formalities.

In the meantime, and despite the rude financial health of Redbus itself, they were forced to operate under tight budgetary constraints by the German liquidator, who limited how much they could spend on buying or co-producing movies.

Franks and Kamasa hid it well, picking up pics cheaply and very selectively, but still snagging such lucrative low-budget prizes as “Open Water” and “Cabin Fever.”

Rivals assumed that the combative Franks, a sharp entrepreneur with his finger in many different pies (he owns all the baskets in three of Blightly’s biggest supermarket chains, for example, and all the billboards on U.K. college campuses) had simply decided that indie film distribution wasn’t worth the risk.

In fact, his hands were tied. “The company rules only gave me the authority to buy films up to a certain limit, so we basically didn’t buy anything for 18 months,” Franks says. “But now the shackles are off.”

The ownership situation was quietly resolved in February, which explains why Redbus was suddenly so visible at Cannes after a quiet couple of years.

It signed with Nu Image to co-produce Neil LaBute‘s redo of the Brit horror classic “The Wicker Man” starring Nicolas Cage, as part of a three-pic deal including Bruce Beresford‘s “The Contract” and Tobe Hooper‘s “Zombies.” It’s also co-producing the George Clooney-directed “Good Night and Good Luck” with Section 8.

Redbus picked up Michael Winterbottom‘s “Cock and Bull Story,” Brit comedy “The All Together,” three arthouse movies (“Paper Clips,” “Gypo” and “Coma”) from Swipe Films, Greek hit “A Touch of Spice” and Brazilian pic “Contra Todos.” It’s in advanced talks to take the U.K./Oz co-prod “Like Minds.”

But it’s hard to imagine that the freshly liberated Franks will be content just to buy more films. The intriguing question now is whether he will revive his grander corporate ambitions (as evidenced by the original Helkon deal) to become an international player.

… settles “Beckham” spat

Meanwhile, Redbus has settled with Gurinder Chadha and her producer Deepak Nayar in the long-running dispute over their share of the profits from “Bend It Like Beckham,” which Redbus co-produced and released in Blighty.

The size of the settlement has not been disclosed, but insiders say Redbus has agreed to pay a substantial sum to Chadha and Nayar. Certainly, Nayar pronounces himself entirely satisfied at the resolution of what he terms a “technical dispute about how the contract had been worded.”

Nayar credits the emollient Kamasa for initiating the reconciliation after a long impasse. “Would I do business with them again? Yes, because they have proved themselves honorable in the end.” Nayar says. “So what if each of us got a bit angry along the way?”

… but won’t cut “Bone”

Debra Granik‘s 2004 Sundance prizewinner “Down to the Bone,” one of the few movies acquired by Redbus during its quiet period, has been effectively banned from U.K. release.

The British censor has asked Redbus to cut a scene in which a snake swallows a hamster, because it breaks animal cruelty laws. But Franks says it would cost more to cut the movie — around $50,000 — than he paid for the film in the first place.

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