The UK's Film Council, BBC Films and BBC 2 are to co-produce and co-finance a slate of four features in a package worth around $3.6m (£2.5m), aimed at breaking new UK directors and guaranteeing at least some exposure through broadcast on BBC 2.
The scheme, which is expected to run for an initial two years, is geared towards contemporary UK projects from innovative first time directors who have previously worked on shorts, documentaries or commercials, although it is not intended to be a forum for experimental film-making. Projects will come from both New Cinema Fund and BBC Films' stables, and money from the Film Council's annual $7.2m (£5m) development fund will be utilised for readying projects.
The venture was agreed between Jane Root, controller of BBC 2, Paul Trijbits, head of the Film Council's New Cinema Fund, and head of BBC Films David Thompson.
As with Last Resort, documentary film-maker Paul Pawlikowski's feature debut which was made for TV but was also released theatrically in the UK by Artificial Eye, features made through the scheme will have a UK theatrical window prior to broadcast.
"It's another way in which the Film Council can collaborate and stimulate and get cinema back on the map of the broadcasters with a relatively balanced investment," Paul Trijbits told Screendaily.
The first film to be commissioned through the scheme, Sweeney, is currently shooting. Directed by documentary film-maker Francesca Joseph, who has previously directed BBC's Driving School and Four Tarts And A Tenor, the film is produced by Ruth Caleb and co-produced by Christopher Collins through his Home Movies production outfit.
The film follows an opera company's performance of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd in a maximum-security prison, using a chorus of lifers. Paul Abbott, whose credits include BBC 1 drama Clocking Off has scripted the film with Joseph. Cast includes Jessica Stevenson, Samantha Spiro, Shaun Dingwall and Kulvinder Ghir.
"They're not TV movies or TV drama. They're films," said Paul Trijbits, who compares the scheme with the BBC's famed Play For Today series of films, which saw directors working with similarly small budgets. "It's a very disciplined way for us to work, and it's for a clearly defined, high-profile end user. The ability to tailor subject matter and handle the practicalities of production within the limitations imposed by the budget will be crucial."
"This partnership is a way of finding the next generation of film-makers, whose natural home is BBC 2," said Jane Root. "We're looking for new directors who want to take risks, and for strong stories with universal resonance. It's about new talent across both television and film."