Film4 is enjoying the moment. The film division of the UK’s Channel 4 on Tuesday announced a record increase in its funding to £25 million ($36 million) for 2016 as well as a deal with Fox Searchlight to co-finance Martin McDonagh’s new film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Separately, Film4 has also inked a four picture deal with the UK’s Entertainment Film Distributors and FP Films to co-develop, finance and produce a slate of four new comedy features.
The banner announcements come as Film4, under the leadership of David Kosse, is enjoying a record 15 Academy Award nominations for Carol, Room, Ex Machina, 45 Years, Youth and Amy.
Billboards was developed by Film4 at an early stage and will be produced by Blueprint Pictures’ Graham Broadbent and Peter Czernin alongside McDonagh. Filming is set to start in April on location in North Carolina. The film will be co-financed equally by Film4 and Fox Searchlight, which will take worldwide distribution rights. Film4 will retain UK TV rights. CAA and Broadbent brokered the rights deal with Fox Searchlight and Kosse and Harry Dixon negotiated the co-financing deal on behalf of Film4. The deal may provide a template for future projects.
“With this deal with Fox we get a share of the worldwide revenues of the film with a good distributor and reasonable distribution fees,” Kosse told Deadline. “We’d like to do more with them but we’re looking at a number of different structures in the way we’re financing our projects. In some cases, we’ve taken a mezzanine position, sometimes gap, sometimes we’ll even own distribution rights without having to become a distributor. The key is to have the flexibility and opportunity. We’re looking at any number of different structures.”
The increase in funding will certainly give Kosse the extra ammunition and weight to add to his keen commercial savvy. Having joined the company in August 2014, following a successful ten year stint at Universal, Kosse has succeeded in keeping Film4’s traditional artistic edge while also steering the company into higher profile projects and partnerships. That balancing act is likely to continue, especially with the funding rise. The FP-Entertainment deal allows Film4 the opportunity to find the next The Inbetweeners, the comedy box office juggernaut. The two big screen adaptations of the TV series have grossed some £80 million at the UK box office alone. The two year development, production and distribution deal with FP Films and Entertainment for a slate of four new comedy feature films could become a real revenue engine for the company.
FP Films is the film and TV production company set up last year by Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, the creative duo behind Channel 4’s blockbuster The Inbetweeners TV series and movie franchise. Film4 developed and financed the two films with Morris and Beesley with Entertainment releasing. Moving forward, Film4 and Entertainment will co-finance the films 50-50. The three companies are now set to build a structure to work with home grown comedy talent. An international sales agent will be assigned to the films to handle international distribution rights once greenlit.
In addition to those projects, Film4 is also maintaining its crucial support for first time filmmakers and the UK’s auteurs. Film4’s slate includes new projects from Clio Barnard (The Selfish Giant) with Dark River; The Imposter‘s Bart Layton’s American Animals; 45 Years‘ Andrew Haigh’s Lean On Pete; Garth Davis’ Mary Magdalene; Danny Boyle’s long-awaited Trainspotting sequel as well as first-time filmmakers’ Michael Peace’s Beast; Toby Macdonald’s Old Boys, Adam Smith’s Trespass Against Us and Benedict Andrews’ Una.
“We want to stay in the talent ladder business, where we’re supporting not just first time filmmakers but also writers and supporting them and helping them to grow,” said Kosse. “I’m also intrigued by those European directors who go to America to make their first English language film or those directors who go to America to make their first big budget film there. I’d like to get more filmmakers to come and work in the UK on something more personal and intimate.”
The banner year for Film4 comes at a time of uncertainty over the long-term fate of its parent company Channel 4 and its possible privatisation. The government is currently looking at a variety of options, including privatizing Channel 4 fully or keeping the hybrid structure as is with the channel a state-owned broadcaster but funded almost entirely by advertising. Another model on the table is transforming the broadcaster into a mutually owned not-for-profit channel. Channel 4 has long been a champion of diverse, edgy programming and any move to privatize would lead to fears of commercialization and homogenization.
Those concerns, however, have not impacted Kosse or his talented team.
“In terms of our day to day strategy, it’s the same as the first day I got here,” says Kosse. “There has been no clarity over what might happen and the truth is it might not even change at all.”