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BBC Films creates inhouse ties

Beeb creates new connections to industry

BBC Films is moving towards a closer creative relationship with other departments at the pubcaster, launching a new joint venture with the Natural History Unit, and developing a slate of project’s with Armando Iannucci’s inhouse comedy label.

“The Meerkat,” a feature doc about the African critter, will be the first movie to be produced with the Natural History Unit.

BBC Worldwide has previously cut movie versions of its blockbuster natural history series “The Blue Planet” (which became “Deep Blue”) and “Planet Earth.”

But this is the first time BBC Films has gotten involved in a movie made specifically and exclusively for the bigscreen.

Iannucci is the comedy guru behind shows such as BAFTA-winning political satire “The Thick of It” and “I’m Alan Partridge.”

He has his own unit within the BBC, which is now developing a slate of ideas with BBC Films.

Separately, BBC Films is working with Steve Coogan’s production outfit Baby Cow and writer/director Hugo Blick to develop “Call Me,” with Coogan to star as a male escort.

Veteran playwright Howard Brenton is working on a script titled “Lawrence After Arabia,” which focuses on the time T.E. Lawrence spent in the Royal Air Force.

Peter Kosminsky is continuing to develop “Embeds,” about reporters embedded with U.S. troops during the Iraq War. Script is by Gary Lewis.

BBC Films backed two movies in the Cannes competition — “Fast Food Nation” and “Red Road” — although it came aboard both at a relatively late stage of financing and wasn’t involved in the development.

BBC Films topper David Thompson defended his decision to back Linklater’s pic, despite the American nationality of the filmmaker and the subject matter.

“It’s not a normal one for us, but it’s a story with such international resonance, and Linklater is our total hero. But the main reason is that we were backing a British producer, Jeremy Thomas,” he said.

He’s equally proud of the BBC’s much-criticized decision to back Woody Allen’s London diptych “Match Point” and “Scoop.”

“The first one has been tremendously successful, taking $80 million worldwide, and I’m not going to apologize for that. Two is enough, but I’d be thrilled to bring a big American director to Britain again to work with British talent. You really can’t be insular in this business if you want to survive,” he said.

In a similar vein, the BBC developed and is co-financing David Cronenberg’s upcoming London thriller “Eastern Promises.”

It is also supporting international projects by British filmmakers, such as Kosminsky’s “Embeds,” Lynne Ramsay’s New York-set “We Need To Talk About Kevin” and Kevin Hood’s Boston-set screenplay “Alec and May,” which is co-financed by the Weinstein Co.

However, the complexities of putting together bigger international projects with American partners are illustrated by the ongoing delays with the historical drama “The Other Boleyn Girl,” which unites producer Scott Rudin with Sony for domestic distribution and Focus for foreign sales. Pic is aiming for production this fall, but has been held up by the difficulty of getting all the partners to agree on casting.

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