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Film4's Kosse hire: commercial isn’t a dirty word

New Film4 boss is hailed as smart and enthusiastic; and if he can connect more UK films to audiences across the globe, that’s surely a good thing.

Since the news broke at Monday lunchtime that David Kosse would be the new head of Film4, I’ve spoken to about 30 people across the UK film industry about their views – and I’d say at least 20 of those people were quick to use the word ‘smart’ when describing Kosse.

Some mentioned his enthusiasm, some his sense of humour. Especially for someone from the studio world, he’s known as being film-maker friendly, not your typical ‘suit’ - all good traits for someone heading Film4. Nearly everyone I talk to agrees with me it’s a positive appointment for Film4.

There are a handful of top UK independent producers I surveyed (including an Oscar winner, a Cannes awardee and several low-budget experts) who have never spoken to Kosse before.

But for someone entrenched in the studio world for the past decade, I’m still impressed with the number of UK indie producers that are on his radar already. Plus the fact that he’s not someone who knows the meticulous ins-and-outs of every UK producer is probably a good thing; when it comes to public funders having a fresh (or somewhat fresh) set of eyes is an asset.

Of course, his background is somewhat unusual for the Film4 job:

a) he’s got more experience in distribution and marketing than in production and development;

b) he’s coming from working globally rather than concentrating on the UK;

c) he’s been working at a studio for the past decade.

Yet all three of those traits can be seen as positives.

The ‘c’ word

Clearly his appointment signals that Channel 4 CEO David Abraham wants Film4 to produce features that are connecting more with audiences, not just in the UK but around the globe. The ‘c word’ - commercial - frightens some people but it doesn’t have to be so scary.

Kosse has a global mind. He is experienced in the UK for sure (American-born but he has lived here for 17 years), but he also knows the US and international markets extremely well. Having UK productions that make a bigger impact globally is good thing.

Taking a more commercial approach at Film4 will inevitably be distressing news to some. The word that comes up most often when people talk about outgoing Film4 head Tessa Ross is ‘nurturing’. Yes, that is a compliment (my praise for her here) and she was known for her talent relationships, but nurturing doesn’t always lead to films that make money - and therefore filmmakers that build careers and businesses.

Yes, Channel 4 bosses might be hoping Kosse and his team work on more Inbetweeners-style films and fewer like The Selfish Giant, which was a creative masterpiece but failed to find an audience.

“Take chances”

Cultural filmmaking is important and Film4 can continue to have a hand in that, yet there are other sources of financing in place to support those kind of works and it’s not only down to Film4.

Not that I expect Kosse to greenlight The Expendables 32. As he told Screen on Monday: “Film4 is a great place for young and innovative filmmakers and it will continue to be that.

“It will continue to be the place where the remit is to take chances on movies others might not. And we want to do that in the context of globally changing business models.”

We’ll have to wait and see exactly how commercial Kosse’s leanings are at Film4. I’m encouraged that while at Universal he championed films like Mama, Ex-Machina and Kick-Ass; it wasn’t all Mamma Mia!.

He also showed an entrepreneurial spirit in the early days of Momentum Pictures, and took risks there with films like Amelie (far from an obvious hit at the time it was acquired).

Even if he is making films like For Those in Peril or The Selfish Giant, he’ll have the up-to-the-minute market insight to push new business models - something Film4 has been pushing in recent years, spearheaded by Anna Higgs and the rest of the team’s work on films like A Field In England. (While innovative, these initiatives could also do with hitting bigger numbers.)

Due a shake-up

Film4 isn’t broken - just look at the recent slate led by Oscar-winner 12 Years A Slave. Ross herself has championed commercial hits and was the driving force behind Slumdog Millionaire.

But like any production body, especially one with a public service remit, it’s probably due for a bit of a shake-up.

It will be fascinating to watch Kosse settle into the job and see what kinds of films are supported at his Film4 going forward. It won’t be immediate upheaval, we won’t see his mark on releases for a year or two because of the current pipeline.

More immediately, the industry is wondering if or when he might make changes to the Film4 team? Will he bring in a trusted associate to join the ranks? Will he move or dismiss long-serving colleagues at Film4? There certainly will need to be a senior creative executive joining him — someone to fill the void left when Katherine Butler left Film4 last year.

Will Kosse be more commercially minded than Tessa Ross? Probably. Is that a good thing for British filmmakers? Probably.

Let’s wait and see.

Wendy Mitchell is Editor of Screen International

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