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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 02:36 GMT 03:36 UK
How FilmFour lost the plot
Scene from Charlotte Gray
Charlotte Gray fared poorly at the box office

Channel 4's movie-making arm FilmFour is to set to be effectively closed as an independent company, 20 years after the station's first investment in British film.

FilmFour has been synonymous with the successes and failures of the British film industry.

Few industries have spent more time begging for government help than the British film industry has in its age-old battle to produce homegrown films that could take on Hollywood imports.

But Channel 4's film arm has always put its money where its mouth is and had more than its fair share of success both producing and co-producing films with more wealthy backers.

Four Weddings and a Funeral was one of Channel 4's bigger winners, taking a reported £27.7m and $52m in the US in 1994.

Ben Kingsley
Sexy Beast earned Ben Kingsley an Oscar nomination
The success was repeated less than two years later when Trainspotting, virtually wholly-funded by Channel 4, took £23m at the box office.

The Irvine Welsh adaptation had cost less than £2.5m to make but cemented the reputation of Channel 4's film-making arm.

But these high-profile successes were exceptional and unrepresentative of Channel 4's approach to film.

Films like Shallow Grave were a better example, advancing new talent on a reported budget of only £1.6m, while bringing in £4.9m in the UK and $2.8m in the US box office.

Channel 4's journey to influence in the film world reached its zenith with the creation of FilmFour Ltd as a stand-alone company in 1998.

The unit helped build up Channel 4's reputation for the home of the quirky and the off-the-wall, as well as helping to kickstart a revival in British film.

Early successes

In all, Channel 4 has put money into more than 300 films since its foundation in 1982.

Early successes were Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas and Stephen Frears's My Beautiful Laundrette.

Letter to Brezhnev in 1985 was a cult hit as was Wish You Were Here in 1987.

Scene from East Is East
East Is East was a major hit
But it is only when British films succeed in America that they are truly recognised at home.

The Crying Game in 1990 achieved this as did the Madness of King George three years later.

Colliery band tale Brassed Off was a moderate success, while 1999's East Is East was a major hit making more than £10m for Channel 4.

There have even been films which have had average performances in the UK, but gone on to major success in America.

Both Secrets and Lies and Sexy Beast were hits in America after only modest takings in the UK.

Bigger names

But the last two years have not been happy ones for FilmFour, with bigger budgets failing to translate into bigger box office.

Indeed there are many who might feel FilmFour has been a victim of its own success, with the unit perceived to be concentrating on fewer films with bigger names.

High-profile failures have included Lucky Break, which cost £4m.

But FilmFour's biggest failure was Charlotte Gray, the Resistance drama starring Cate Blanchett.

FilmFour's albatross

Its budget of £15m was not large by the standards of Hollywood, but it is enormous by the standards of domestically-funded films.

It took a little over £1m at the UK box office and a negligible figure in the US and will be identified as an albatross should FilmFour disappear completely.

Paradoxically, FilmFour says the film actually made money after all of the complicated international sales were calculated.

The company is also keen to point out that critics should remember only 25% of all films ever make more than £1m at the UK box office.

And should Channel 4 restrict itself to a handful of made-for-TV films from now on, the film industry may believe it will ultimately be losing prestige instead of money.

The BBC's Torin Douglas
"People feel it has lost its way"
Minister for broadcasting Kim Howells
"The whole question of distribution means you've got to have very big bucks"
See also:

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