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Sue Bruce Smith Leads Film4 Into Awards Season

As the awards season gets into full swing, several of the films in contention have one thing in common — they have been backed by Film4, the movie arm of U.K. broadcaster Channel 4. “Room,” “Carol,” “Suffragette,” “45 Years,” “Youth” and “Macbeth” are all Film4-backed movies and those films have a good track record during awards season, with “12 Years a Slave” and “Slumdog Millionaire” being the most notable examples.

As well as making a financial investment in a project, Film4 also puts its staff to work to help develop and support it. “Once they have decided to back you, that’s it, you get the full force of their team — from legal and financial through to creative,” says Elizabeth Karlsen, the lead producer of “Carol.”

Film4 likes to be actively involved in the development of projects. “We want very much to be in at the start of those conversations,” says Sue Bruce Smith, Film4’s head of distribution and brand strategy. “It is always our ambition to try and help to build it in a way that makes sense.”

Rose Garnett, head of creative at Film4, adds: “We are experienced, passionate people who are all helping to make sure the film is made the right way.”

With “Carol,” Film4’s involvement began a few years ago when then-head Tessa Ross helped Karlsen to secure the rights to Patricia Highsmith’s novel “The Price of Salt,” on which the film is based. “She was really instrumental every step of the way in terms of packaging it, providing support when we were putting the financing together, right through to production,” Karlsen says.

Film4, which is now headed by David Kosse, prides itself on its loyalty to the filmmaker’s vision. Lenny Abrahamson, whose film “Room” has been generating awards buzz, has benefited from this.

“In their DNA, they are supportive of the directors they work with, and there is no other agenda other than to help you make the film you want to make, which is not always the case out there,” he says.

Film4 tends to be the first port of call for Abrahamson and Element Pictures, “Room’s” production company, when they have a new project.

“It’s a way of protecting the project,” Abrahamson says. “The early stages of a project are when it is at its most delicate — when you are wrestling with the material and forming the film that you are going to make, and it is so important that anybody you let into that part of the process is carefully chosen.”

“Room” producer and Element principal Ed Guiney adds, “They are very filmmaker focused. They’ll challenge and push us and the filmmaker, but it is all in the context of trying to help achieve the best version of the filmmaker’s film.”

He adds: “What’s great about having Film4 on board is that you can circle the wagons, not give away an awful lot of rights, develop the project in a constructive environment, understand what the project is, get it to a point where you feel the script and the budget reflect something that is viable, and then go out into the world at that point. And that’s a very powerful position to be in.”

They speak the director’s language, says Iain Canning, joint managing director of See-Saw Films, which produced Justin Kurzel’s “Macbeth.” “When you bring a filmmaker in they are incredibly collaborative,” he adds. “They are very good at understanding what the film is, and understanding the filmmaker, so everyone’s on the same page. Therefore the process through to locking the picture, and doing the sound and the music, is as fluid and collaborative as possible because all of that has been set up at those initial meetings.”

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