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Last Updated: Monday, 16 February, 2004, 08:50 GMT
Producers give backbone to industry
The Bafta award for outstanding contribution to British film has been given to two of the most important figures in the British movie industry - the founders of Working Title films.

Eric Fellner (left) and Tim Bevan
Fellner and Bevan formed their company in 1992
Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner have been described as the "Brit flick's twin towers of power", Britain's "movie moguls" and "gamblers with excellent taste and instincts".

But whatever tag you want to apply to the two producers and founders of Working Title films, one thing is certain: the British film industry would be poorer without them.

They have been listed as the most powerful figures in the British industry and in 2002 Premiere magazine put them at 41st in the world-wide movie power list.

A roll call of their films is a virtual name check of all of the biggest British films of the last 10 years.

Working Title hits
Four Weddings
Bean
Notting Hill
Bridget Jones's Diary

Their films have grossed more than $1.8 billion (1.12 billion) in the last 12 years, and that is a conservative estimate.

The Financial Times reported that the pair are worth at least 20m each.

"They are energetic, not naive, not arty-farty, or up their own arses," said actor Hugh Grant, who has worked with the pair on four films.

They have not just contributed financially to the industry. Working Title films have also backed critically-acclaimed films and American independent successes.

Critical successes
Dead Man Walking
Elizabeth
Fargo
The Man Who Wasn't There
O Brother Where Art Thou?
Strangely, for such successful film figures, the two maintain a very low profile at odds with the industry in which they work.

New Zealand-born Bevan started his career as a production runner on soap opera, Close to Home, before serving his apprenticeship at the National Film Unit.

In the early 1980s he moved to Britain and started working at Video Arts, John Cleese's successful corporate training production house.

Launch

In 1983 he started a music video production company, Aldabra, which was to become Working Title films a year later.

Its first feature, My Beautiful Laundrette, helped launch the careers of director Stephen Frears and Daniel Day-Lewis.

When you talk to one, you always feel you are talking to the other one as well
Stephen Daldry
Fellner too started in music videos, making promos for bands such as Duran Duran and Fleetwood Mac.

He moved into British films, producing The Rachel Papers and Sid and Nancy, among others at Initial Pictures.

He left Initial to join Bevan in 1992.

The early films were a mixture of left-of-centre independent films, such as Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, and support for American indie productions, such as Tim Robbins' Bob Roberts.

Working Title's breakthrough hit was 1994's Four Weddings and a Funeral, a romantic comedy which made the term British blockbuster seem less of an oxymoron.

Hugh Grant
Grant has been a regular performer for Working Title
After a long dry period with few international hits, the production company proved that the British could once again fashion films with global appeal.

International successes followed: among them, French Kiss, Dead Man Walking, Fargo, Bean and Elizabeth, mixing critical with commercial successes.

In 1999 Working Title signed a reported $600m deal with film giant Universal. While the overall deal is probably exaggerated, it gave the pair the power to commission films with a budget up to $35m without even consulting their pay masters.

Epicentre

"I think anyone in Hollywood would want to do business with these guys," said the former Universal Studios boss Edgar Bronfman Jr, now a chief executive with USA Interactive.

They have fashioned success despite being thousands of miles away from the epicentre of the industry.

But their relationship with Hollywood has always been strong.

Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Bridget Jones was an international hit
Director Alex Cox has spoken of how Fellner, in a bid to keep the film Straight to Hell on track, flew to Los Angeles and returned with a suitcase of money.

But not all of their films have been unqualified successes - as one would expect in the movie industry.

Flops include Captain Corelli's Mandolin. It was their most expensive film and, ironically, the one that seemed most likely to succeed.

Adapted from the widly popular book of the same name, with an all-star cast, it still managed to disappoint with the critics and at the box office.

Despite their low profile, Bevan is seen as the "flashier" of the two, with more commercial instincts.

Although this probably stems from a "celebrity marriage" to Joely Richardson, which ended in divorce, and once being listed by Tatler magazine as one of the most "dateable boys".

Fellner, predictably, is seen as the more arty of the partnership.

"They cover each other and complement each other," Stacey Snider, chairman of Universal Pictures has said.

She added: "Tim has incredible drive and focus, while Eric can smooth ruffled feathers anytime. And they're both material driven, which is rare."

Their most recent success is the launch of WT2, an offshoot designed to produce smaller budget films.

Its first film, Billy Elliot, was a huge success.

Director Stephen Daldry said: "The joy of them is that they strangely never contradict each other, and despite the fact that they have different personalities, they are in agreement.

When you talk to one, you always feel you are talking to the other one as well."




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