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Foreigners find U.K. a mixed bag

Filmmakers look for greener pastures in London

LONDON — Following its acquisition of Brit distribbery Optimum last year, Gaul’s StudioCanal dispatched some of its most senior figures to London to establish an international base.

Similarly, France’s Pathe also runs its international ops out of London via Pathe U.K.

There’s no decline in the number of people — from high-powered execs to bottom-of-the-rung aspirants — flocking from continental Europe to join London’s film industry. But what’s becoming clear is that London is not a one-size-fits-all locale.

Sometimes, the reasons for coming to the U.K. are strictly business, as in the case of young Dutch exec Jasper Van Hecke, the newly tapped head of development and production at Stephen Fry’s Sprout Prods. shingle.

Having already produced one feature in his native Holland (2005’s “Flirt,” which outperformed “Ray” in its opening weekend domestically), Van Hecke applied to take part in producer Marc Samuelson’s London-based Skillset training program and stayed in the city once it had ended.

“Holland is a cinematic desert in terms of high-quality films for the international market,” says Van Hecke. “I don’t want to slag off the Dutch film industry, but I’m not interested in making local-language films that even in theory can’t make their money back. That’s not the way to create a sustainable business.

“London is the epicenter of European filmmaking. There’s more of a hotline between Europe and the U.S. here.”

Van Hecke is far from the only exec with that opinion.

Fellow Dutch producer Teun Hilte (“Black Book”) has set up shop here, as has Danish producer Lene Bausager (“Cashback”), ThinkFilm Intl. French head of sales Eve Schoukroun and the Bureau’s Bertrand Faivre (“Joyeux Noel,” “Far North”).

These entrepreneurial execs are escaping what they see as the closed-shop mentality of many European film industries, as well as appreciating London’s generally more-expansive multicultural atmosphere.

London, for example, is essentially France’s fourth-biggest city with 300,000 French residents. The capital is reputedly host to some 100,000 Russians in addition to other traveling Euros unencumbered by visa or work permit restrictions, thanks to EU regulations.

“In France, it’s virtually impossible to get into the film industry unless your father is a director or producer,” says Schoukroun, who started work as an assistant at talent agency Endeavor before moving on to sales agents Capitol Films and ThinkFilm. “There are a lot of opportunities here. I went from being an assistant to head of sales in just six years. That would never have happened in France. London is similar to America in having a sink-or-swim mentality. If you’re good, they keep you.”

However, some stay in London reluctantly, with other factors, such as family and relationships, dictating the selection of home turf.

Bausager has lived in London for 18 years, but says that any success she has had — she’s currently in post on $15 million project “Flashbacks of a Fool” starring Daniel Craig — has come despite, not because of, her London background.

“I lived here before I started working in the film industry,” says Bausager. “If I didn’t have a child, I probably wouldn’t still be here. I love London for so many reasons — but not its film industry. I don’t feel I’m a part of the British film industry. It’s so hard to get a film off the ground, especially here, and I’ve never received support from U.K. orgs such as the U.K. Film Council.”

Of course, one consequence of people coming to London is that the Euro influence is rubbing off on British film execs.

“We’ve got five projects initiated by U.K. producers that involve topnotch European directors,” says U.K. Film Council European executive J.J. Lousberg.

“A lot of European directors don’t want to work in Hollywood but still want to reach an international platform, so they feel the U.K. system for financing a film is less prescriptive creatively. This is an interesting change for U.K. producers to be more aware of European directors and their sensibility.”