A bolstered BBC Films could be hived off from its hulking parent company and housed in new digs near London's Charlotte Street, within spitting distance of archrival FilmFour, according to plans currently being drawn up by the UK's public broadcaster.
Assuming those plans get rubberstamped, BBC Films will soon re-locate from its current offices deep within the BBC's White City labyrinth in West London and arrive at this new site just minutes away from bustling SoHo armed with an increased war chest and a more tightly-defined remit.
This newly-envisaged BBC Films would narrow its focus to concentrate more on theatrical features, rather than spread itself across both films and single dramas. However, it will not give up TV production completely since it will stay involved in small screen drama that revolve around talent and subjects that can cross over to or from the big screen.
BBC Films, whose chief David Thompson currently spends anywhere from around $10m to $18m a year on features, is widely expected to enjoy a significant hike in core production funding. This increase would be in addition to the previously announced investment from commercial arm BBC Worldwide of $65m over five years.
These plans comes after recently installed BBC Director General Greg Dyke flagged filmmaking as a cornerstone of the broadcaster's agenda in a commitment that was seen as the strongest support for features from any BBC chief to date. Dyke also installed Alan Yentob as head of a super programme-making department with the hinted intention of singling out feature filmmaking activities from the rest of drama production.
Although the notion of a more fully stand-alone film arm that would more closely mimic Channel 4's FilmFour has been the subject of hot internal debates within the BBC, such an idea is seen as impractical given that the BBC does not have either an in-house distribution arm or an international sales operation.
The decision instead to opt for a geographical change of surroundings might seem little more than a cosmetic change. However, a move closer to London's filmmaking hub centered around Wardour Street, underscores, in a very literal sense, Dyke's commitment to being at the heart of UK filmmaking.
At the same time, the BBC may also be ready to be directly involved in the marketing and sales of its films. BBC Worldwide recently struck an output deal with local independent Redbus Film Distribution, the BBC's first long-term deal with a theatrical distributor in the UK. BBC Worldwide also has the potential to raise its investment in The Sales Co, in which it currently has a 25% stake, now that fellow stakeholder British Screen Finance is due to close down -- although no negotiations are understood to have even started on such a shareholding expansion.
The broadcaster is also expected to raise the budget of films in which it invests. Along with Michael Winterbottom's recently shot $15m Kingdom Come, larger scale BBC pictures in the works include Dr Sleep, the thriller being produced by Michele Camarda and directed by Nick Willing; and a feature version of its seminal sci-fi series Dr Who, which may well bring in the BBC's Hollywood production partner Mutual Film Group. Additionally, BBC Films is collaborating with Miramax Films on I Capture The Castle.
That said, lower-budget pictures will continue to be a plank of the broadcaster's production output. The $4.5m Dancer, expected to re-named Raising Billy Elliot so as not to create any confusion in filmgoers minds with Lars Von Trier's Dancer In The Dark, earned critical kudos at Cannes and is expected to be a box officer winner. The co-production between Working Title Films WT2 and Tiger Aspect Pictures, was co-financed by BBC Films and backed by the Arts Council of England. It is due to be released in the US through Universal Pictures' newly-formed classics division.