EXCLUSIVE: Interview process for Protagonist top position underway; shareholders committed to the sales company.

London-based Protagonist Pictures, set up as a joint venture between Film4, Ingenious and Vertigo Films in 2007, is coming off one of its most successful markets to date.

At the EFM there was strong demand for the company’s slate, which includes anticipated titles The Sweeney, Richard Ayoade’s The Double, John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary and Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now as well as completed titles like Streetdance 2 3D, which had its UK premiere in London last night.

But in the past three weeks, the company has seen the departure of head of sales Charlotte van Weede to eOne and, as announced yesterday, its CEO Ben Roberts, who will become Director of the BFI Film Fund.

Inevitably, the company is in hiring mode. Nigel Williams, chairman of the Protagonist Pictures board and the majority shareholder in the company, told Screen: “Ben and his amazing team have successfully grown Protagonist into a first class international sales company working with some of the best producers in the business. We are already making plans to ensure that the next stage of the company’s growth proves to be just as dynamic and visionary.”

Allan Niblo, producer and co-founder of Vertigo Films, told Screen: “The process has begun. We’re organising interviews now and there have been some strong candidates come forward already.”

Screen understands that Roberts will likely continue as head of Protagonist through Cannes. He is unlikely to contribute on staff to the BFI’s public consultation of its Five Year Forward Plan For Film – likely to go out end of April.

Williams, Vertigo, Ingenious and Film4 have all pledged their ongoing commitment to Protagonist: “Ben was attracting good films and the shareholders Film4, Vertigo and Ingenious were providing good product - that will continue,” said Niblo. “Nothing will change there. We are fully committed to Protagonist. Ben will be there for a while. He will be the point of contact. He is not leaving immediately.”

The shareholders and Protagonist declined to comment on whether Charlotte van Weede’s role as head of sales would be filled.

Roberts himself told Screen: “There was really only one job that could entice me away from Protagonist, and I will be incredibly sorry to leave a company and a team of people that I strongly believe to be one of the best in the business. I hope that we have built a brand that stands for good taste, strong values and great films. Filmmakers and distributors could not be in better hands, and my successor will inherit a dream team.”

Sue Bruce-Smith, Film4’s representative on the Protagonist board, said: “We are absolutely delighted that Ben has been chosen to head up the BFI fund. He is someone of enormous integrity and vision and Protagonist has benefited hugely from these qualities in its first three years, qualities which will stand him in very good stead in his new role.  Whilst he will be much missed at Protagonist, he and his excellent team have together built a very impressive company whose future looks very exciting indeed.”

Nik Bower of Ingenious Media added: “In just three years, Ben has taken Protagonist from a standing start to the front rank of international sales agencies, with a reputation and a brand to be proud of.  He has built a fantastic team and leaves the company perfectly positioned to grow. We are grateful for his ambition and dedication, and wish him every success at the BFI.”

Roberts was selected for his new role at the BFI by an interview panel consisting of Amanda Nevill, James Purnell, Libby Savill, Eric Fellner, Stephen Frears, Christopher Frayling and Greg Dyke.