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 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), “ (2012), “” (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
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
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. “ 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
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
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
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 “” 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:
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 , , , , 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”.
Forthcoming releases include; Ben Wheatley’s
“High-Rise” and “Free Fire”, Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”, Benedict Andrews’
“Una” and Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey”.
For further information visit , 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.
3 of 5 Oscar Best Actress
Nominees – Cate Blanchett, Brie Larson, Charlotte Rampling
Nomination tally by film:
Film4-backed films Oscar® nominations in
Actress in a Leading Role: Cate
Actress in a
Supporting Role: Rooney Mara
Screenplay: Phyllis Nagy
Cinematography: Ed Lachman
Achievement in Music Written for
Motion Pictures (Original score): Carter Burwell
Costume Design: Sandy Powell
Best Motion Picture of the
Year: Ed Guiney
Directing: Lenny Abrahamson
Actress in a Leading Role: Brie
Screenplay: Emma Donoghue
Original Screenplay: Alex
Achievement in Visual
Effects: Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett
Actress in a Leading Role: Charlotte
Achievement in Music Written for
Motion Pictures (Original song): Simple Song # 3, music and lyrics by
Best Documentary Feature: Asif
Kapadia, James Gay-Rees