FilmFour counts the cost of its 'flops'

Story by Jack Foley


AFTER two years of financial losses, FilmFour - one of the UK's biggest and most significant independent production houses - has closed, prompting massive fears for the future of the British film industry.

The 'sad' news was announced on Monday, July 8, 2002, and immediately provoked an angry reaction from some of the leading names in UK film-making, all of whom have lamented its loss.

FilmFour was the London-based company behind some of the UK's most successful flicks to date, including Trainspotting, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Full Monty and East Is East; yet a string of flops - including the critically-acclaimed but Box Office dud, Sexy Beast, and this year's Charlotte Gray (pictured above) - left the company struggling.

Many observers have attributed the company's attempts to compete with Hollywood as one of the reasons for its expensive failures, while David Thompson, head of BBC Films, described it as 'a very sad day' for the British film industry, adding that the announcement did not 'inspire confidence' at a time when the British film industry needs it.

There was some light at the end of the tunnel with the announcement on Tuesday that Channel 4 is planning to re-integrate the company's production division into its main television operation, but this will mean the closure of FilmFour's sales and distribution arms and 'significant job losses'.

Chief executive, Mark Thompson, said that a new £10 million annual film commissioning fund would be included in Channel 4's programme budget, while a new head will be appointed for the channel's film division to manage the budget. FilmFour's current chief executive, Paul Webster, has stated that he does not wish to be considered for the post.

The proposal will now be put to FilmFour's staff as part of a statutory 30-day consultation period - 59 people work at the company's base in central London.

According to Mr Thompson, the plan (if adopted) will mean a move away from the company's recent focus on larger-budget, international projects towards producing the kind of 'cutting-edge British films that have been part of Channel 4's cultural and creative success of the last 20 years'.

The new division will also be charged with finding and supporting new talent, as well as backing the 'experimental, low-budget unit, FilmFour Lab'.

The existing production commitments of FilmFour, including Motor Cycle Diaries and Edgardo Mortara, will still be met. The FilmFour TV channel will be unaffected by the changes.

Of the tributes paid to the former company, Bafta chairman Simon Relph said that it was to be regretted that a company that had been investing over £30m in British films had suddenly decided to cut back and only invest £10m.

But Ken Loach, who has worked with Channel 4 on films such as My Name Is Joe, felt that the news may be a blessing in disguise and that the UK industry should look to Europe - a form of cinema the Brits have 'much more in common with' - rather than competing with the Americans.

Dr Kim Howells, film minister at the Department for Culture Media and Sport, said that FilmFour had to return to what it did best.

Citing Trainspotting, My Beautiful Laundrette and East Is East as successes which were all made for about £2.5m each, the minister remained convinced that the company can start doing that again.

Others, including Michael Grade, Pinewood Studios boss, felt confident that the company would bounce back and that Channel 4 remained as committed as ever to investing in British pictures.