The UK Film Council is to conduct research into ways thatit could provide support for sales companies operating out of the UK.

The move follows the closure of four UK based salesoperations in the past three months: Renaissance Films, Element X, Portman andHBO Films.

It also comes as senior figures from the UK salesindustry have begun to call for the Council support for the sector.

Council spokesman Ian Thomson said: "We are already inthe process of undertaking research looking at the sales sector and ways itmight be supported."

He added that the support might not necessarily be purelymonetary and that there may be economic devices that could be brought to thetable as a result of the research.

The UK Sales Sector Research is a joint Film Export UKand Council project. It will also explore the benefits of Film Export UK, theinformal association of UK sales companies, becoming a formal membership bodyand provide evidence and statistical information on the UK sales sector.

Pathe sales chief Alison Thompson said: "I think our timehas come. We need to start making some noise. It's very early days but we needto explore ways in which the UK Film Council can better support exportagencies. One way might be stipulating that British films with UKFC support staywith a UK sales agency."

Intandem's Gary Smith said that, given the strongfinancial backing for the UK production sector and initiatives such as digitalexhibition, it is time for the Council to provide more funding for salesagencies. "We need to lobby the Film Council", he said. "We need to go intooverdrive with this."

However, the Council is thought to be nervous aboutautomatically pouring aid into every facet of the film industry and wants tothoroughly research all options before making commitments.

For full analysis of the state of the UK film sales sector, see this week's Screen International