3 items from 2016
Chicago – “Eddie The Eagle” is thoroughly predictable underdog story, but this picture won me over with a plucky persistence fitting for its peculiar protagonist. It’s an admittedly minor but mostly true tale of an oddball outsider overcoming overwhelming odds.
“Eddie The Eagle” was a not terribly talented but incredibly motivated British ski jumper who managed to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics. He made the British Olympic team because no other British athletes had even thought to compete in that particular sport.
Taron Egerton, from last year’s surprisingly enjoyable “The Kingsman,” stars as Eddie. He’s a milk drinking, awkward, sexless nerd outfitted with giant dorky glasses and a wisp of a mustache. Egerton juts out his chin, hunches his back and perpetually seems on the verge of letting his glasses slip off his nose entirely. But he captures what made people like Eddie in the first place »
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Adam Fendelman)
Titles backed by Film4 this year have a total of 15 Oscar nominations including a Best Picture and Best Director nomination and three of the five Oscar Best Actress Nominees: Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Charlotte Rampling. The total tally of Film4’s awards nominations and wins across the Academy, BAFTA, critics groups, guilds, etc. in 2015 to date is: 181 wins out of a total 581 nominations (95% of which were in the U.S.) across 11 films - “Room”, “Carol”, “Suffragette”, “Youth”, “The Lobster", "Ex Machina", "45 Years”, “Amy”, “Macbeth”, “Slow West”, and “Dark Horse”.
Film4 has already had two Academy Best Picture wins in recent years with "Slumdog Millionaire" and "12 Years A Slave" amid other Academy Award nominations, so we can declare they are a force to be reckoned with.
This year again they have more nominations than most Hollywood Studios! The New York based Distribution and Production Company A24 has seven nominations, and people are talking about them as serious players in the Oscar race, so let’s talk about Film4.
Film4 is known for working with the most distinctive and innovative, both new and established, talent. It develops and co-finances films and is well known for its involvement with “The Last King of Scotland” (2006), “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), “This is England” (2006), “Seven Psychopaths” (2012), “12 Years a Slave” (2013) as well as its most recent crop of successes in the current awards season which has also already garnered a record number of BAFTA nominations this year - 22 in all.
Sue Bruce Smith is the head of distribution and brand strategy at Channel 4’s feature film division, Film4. She supports the building and financing of projects from the U.K. broadcaster. She works in some capacity across most of the Film4 slate but has been particularly associated with films like “Room”, “The Lobster”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “The Last King of Scotland”, “Tyrannosaur”, “The Imposter” and “Le Weekend”,
Sue has been at Film4 over 12 years. Prior to this she has worked variously in U.K. distribution, broadcaster investment in film, international sales and independent production at Palace Pictures, BBC Films, Littlebird and Film4.
Sl: Can you define what exactly you do at Film4?
Sue Bruce Smith: What I do varies quite a bit from film to film. Some of the seasoned producers are more adept at finding partners and don’t need much in the way of help putting their finance together. However, we also work with emerging producers and directors who require more guidance so I am on hand to help them access the right co-production or distribution partners to ensure the film is built in the best possible way. Once the film is completed, I again get involved in the strategy for the launch of the film and I oversee the distribution activity. Protecting and maximizing the strength of our Film4 brand is a key consideration in everything I do. We are also the only free-to-air channel dedicated to film in the U.K. so this really helps define our strong brand.
Sl: How are productions greenlit at Film4?
Sue Bruce Smith:The creative and commercial team within Film4 will guide a project through development to final greenlight. David Kosse, Director of Film4 is a key part of the whole progression of the film and his final decision, based very much on the soundings he gets from his senior team, also obviously draws heavily on his valuable experience and understanding of film investment and the international marketplace. The Film4 team is a very inclusive team of about 23 people working across development, production, finance and distribution. it is also able to draw upon additional resources within the Channel4, most specifically in marketing and press.
Sl: Do you do co-productions?
Sue Bruce Smith: If you mean financial co-productions, yes lots. These tend to be U.S. set financial co-productions or they might come out of Europe. But official co-productions are relatively rare as it is more difficult and takes longer to set up. “Room”, however, was an official co-production with Telefilm Canada and “The Lobster” was the result of a wonderful collaboration of over five different European co-producers.
Sl: What sort of budget parameters do you work with?
Sue Bruce Smith: We span from the very low to sometimes quite high. We try not to limit ourselves and allow the project to find its optimum level. When we developed “Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk” with Ink Factory, in the course of looking for partners we found a fan in Tom Rothman who at that time was in the process of rebuilding production at TriStar and we have ended up, as a result, being involved in an Ang Lee film! However these are the exceptions and the range is usually between Us $3m to Us$15m.
Going forward, we are keen to be bolder in how Film4 invests especially when we feel a film is a potential break out. We operate a cross subsidy model where the bigger, more commercial investments allow us to generate revenue that then supports the new emerging talent. It is worth noting that absolutely everything we earn from our films goes straight back into more development and film investment.
Sl: Do you have special “strands” for particular types of films?
Sue Bruce Smith: We don’t really distinguish films in strands we just work across many levels and genres. First time filmmakers tend to have smaller budgets - around Us$3m and they are built in a slightly different way. For our larger projects I’d say our sweet spot is $10 – 15 million.
Sl: How do you find projects?
Sue Bruce Smith:: We are constantly scouting for interesting new talent, watching shorts like “Robots of Brixton” where we found Kibwe Tavares, culling talent from our TV arm (like Yann Demange who worked with us on the TV series “Top Boy” before making “'71”) from theater (Lucy Kirkwood who we are making a short film with and developing a feature), the arts (which is where Steve McQueen originated and is still very active) and writing (Alex Garland who adapted “Never Let Me Go” for us and went on to make his striking debut “Ex Machina”)
Sl: I notice you don’t do international sales like you used to in the 80s.
Sue Bruce Smith: Yes we shed the international sales division and the U.K. Distribution arm back in 2002 and brought the focus back to our core development and co-financing activities. We currently work with a wide range of sales agents like Protagonist, Hanway, Cornerstone, FilmNation, Westend, Pathe, Studio Canal, Independent and others.
Sl: In the early days in the 1980s operations were different.
Sue Bruce Smith: David Rose, in 1982, was the real visionary behind Film4. He decided Channel4 would be different from all other TV channels. Channel4 was the first U.K. broadcaster, through its film arm, Film on Four, to develop and co-finance films and, crucially, to allow these films to play in cinemas before their television transmission on Channel4. Our theatrical model became Film on Four and HBO, Sbs and Arte followed this lead. “Walter” by Stephen Frears followed this route in 1982. Frear's next film “My Beautiful Laundrette” followed shortly after in 1985
(An aside here by Sydney Levine):
If my readers will indulge me for a little history lesson in how films change with technological change, I want to point out that in the early days of home video, in 1985, Sue and I (a couple of the pioneer women in the modern business) shared in the good fortune resulting from the shift in the movie and TV business.
Working for the biggest TV production house in U.S. in the days of “Dallas”, I came to Lorimar to buy for home video, the fastest growing new technological distribution tool yet. We put up $175,000 advance to acquire home video rights to the Film4 feature “My Beautiful Laundrette” for U.S. $75,000 of that was to be used as P&A by theatrical distributor Orion Pictures Classics’ platform theatrical release – to platform first in N.Y. and L.A for critical reviews, and then, if profitable, to expand across the nation. It was the first British film to come to U.S. in many a year (except of course for the James Bond franchise). Orion Classics was headed by Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Donna Gigliotti who paid no advance but used the P&A allotment wisely and well. It was a happy association that we shared a couple of more times before they moved on to form Sony Pictures Classics and I moved on to Republic Pictures, reconstructed by Cnb’s Russell Goldsmith, former CEO of Lorimar. This Film4 picture, “My Beautiful Laundrette” was by complete unknowns in the U.S. and was a first for us all. We did not know it would go on to gross $7 million at the box office (a huge amount at that time for an independent film) and would sell 75,000 video units (at $50 wholesale a piece = $3,750,000). We at Lorimar made a $1 million profit and overages of $1 million went to Channel 4 and $1 million went to Working Title. I got a $100 bonus, and we were all delighted. My association with Film4 was followed by many loyal and loving years and reunions, but that is another lesson.
To quote Adam P. Davies, the writer of the U.K. Film Finance Handbook 2005/6: How to Fund Your Film:
Stephen Frears’s 1985 “My Beautiful Laundrette” signalled a change in direction for the industry in that TV backed film investment started to feed local productions. The Channel4 film encouraged the broadcasters to increase investment in filmmaking over the late 80s and also launched Working Title, initially run by Tim Bevan and Sarah Radcliffe (who left in 1992 to run her own company) and later Eric Fellner, with whom Bevan runs the company today [in a longstanding deal with Universal-Focus]. Video distributor and producer Palace Pictures, run by Nik Powell and Stephen Woolley, followed the success in 1985 of Neil Jordan’s “Company of Wolves” with “Mona Lisa” in 1986. The British Film Commission launched in 1992 [when “The Crying Game” had its world success].
Sue was at Palace Productions when I was at Lorimar and Republic and our paths crossed many times and so I was quite eager to share the latest good fortune of the 2016 Academy Awards at a time when the Academy is being besieged by negative publicity. At that time, back in ’85, I suggested to Michael and Tom that they put up Daniel Day Lewis for Best Actor Nomination and as I recall, they told me British films or British actors in British films were not acceptable to the Academy, and so neither he nor the film was put up for nomination.
“My Beautiful Laundrette” obviously had Asian actors; it was about a gay skinhead and a Pakistani. Diversity was at its core, but it did not get past the British line of demarcation the Academy had drawn in ’85. Its ethnic boundaries might have existed if anyone had tried to test them but that was not even an issue in 1985. “Diversity” in those days did not exist as a word one used and the very idea of diversity was even more limited than today.
Film4 has had a key role in proactively promoting different voices and stories since the 1980s. And today diversity is a crucial consideration in the decisions Film4 makes about its developments and productions with the aim of increasing diversity across all areas of the business. They have several films currently in development with Bame writers and directors and are successfully working with many female directors such as Andrea Arnold, Debbie Tucker Green, Susanna White, Clio Bernard, Sarah Gavron and Lynne Ramsay.
In January last year parent company Channel4 launched the 360 Degree Diversity Charter which is all about a commitment to implementing diversity on and off screen and to measuring its progress. It is tied to Project Diamond, an industry-wide diversity monitoring system. Its results will be published in the next few months.
Film4 has developed and co-financed many of the most successful U.K. films of recent years, Academy Award-winners such as Steve McQueen’s "12 Years a Slave", Danny Boyle’s "Slumdog Millionaire", Phyllida Lloyd’s "The Iron Lady” and Martin McDonagh’s "In Bruges" in addition to critically-acclaimed award-winners such as Mike Leigh’s "Mr. Turner", Chris Morris’ "Four Lions", Shane Meadows’ "This is England", Ben Wheatley’s “Sightseers", Clio Barnard’s "The Selfish Giant" Jonathan Glazer’s "Under the Skin" and David Mackenzie’s "Starred Up".
Film4’s recent releases include; Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room", Todd Haynes’ “Carol", Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette", Justin Kurzel’s “Macbeth", Yorgos Lanthimos’ "The Lobster", Asif Kapadia’s box office record breaking documentary “Amy", Andrew Haigh’s "45 Years", Alex Garland’s "Ex Machina", Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth", Peter Strickland’s "The Duke of Burgundy", Daniel Wolfe’s "Catch Me Daddy" and John Maclean’s "Slow West".
For further information visit www.film4.com/productions, but for now, here is the Cheat Sheet on Film4’s 2016 Total Oscar Nominations numbering 15. It will be at my side as I watch the Awards on February. Parenthetically, I am also looking forward to watching the fashions before the show, and inside the show, to catching that one loose cannon who will deliver the only inspirational speech in a rather inspirationless, basically boring, but still worthy traditional show.
Nomination tally by film:
“Room” – 4 - Picture, Actress, Director, Best Adapted Screenplay
“Carol” – 6 –Actress, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Score
“Ex Machina” – 2 –Original screenplay, Visual Effects
“Amy” – 1 – Documentary Feature
“45 Years” – 1 – Actress
“Youth” – 1 – Original Song
Film4-backed films Oscar® nominations in full:
Actress in a Leading Role: Cate Blanchett
Actress in a Supporting Role: Rooney Mara
Adapted Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy
Achievement in Cinematography: Ed Lachman
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original score): Carter Burwell
Achievement in Costume Design: Sandy Powell
Best Motion Picture of the Year: Ed Guiney
Achievement in Directing: Lenny Abrahamson
Actress in a Leading Role: Brie Larson
Adapted Screenplay: Emma Donoghue
Original Screenplay: Alex Garland
Actress in a Leading Role: Charlotte Rampling
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original song): Simple Song # 3, music and lyrics by David Lang
- Sydney Levine
Heading on tour around the UK this month is Tiff Stevenson. Her new stand-up show, Mad Man, is about to get underway, and she spared us some time for a chat. It got quite nerdy...
I'll start with the obvious one, and then we can go nerdy. You're going on tour with a show called Mad Man. What's it about?
It's about identity really. Who we are as people, how much of our personalities are made up of what we think we like and what we put out into the world, and how much is chewed up and sold back to us through various advertisements and social media and everything else.
Do you have specific examples you're tapping into?
Yeah, sure. Advertising is a huge thread that runs through the show. »
3 items from 2016
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