Millions spent on British films no one wants to see

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The Independent Culture

Millions of pounds have been wasted on British movies that are so terrible they are threatening the long-term viability of the industry, according to the leading producer Stephen Woolley.

As the British film world gathers in London today for the Bafta awards, the producer behind the hit films Mona Lisa and The Crying Game warned that new European grants and lottery money have been used to pay for British films that no one wants to watch.

Audiences will be driven away, he said, unless money is spent identifying talent, developing scripts and using experienced production staff.

"I just hope that the people who are making these films are aware of the damage that can be done in the long term," said Mr Woolley in an exclusive interview with the Independent on Sunday. "People are coming from film schools and advertising or promos and they are making films in a vacuum. Cinemas are not going to be able to show these films and they aren't making money."

A combination of lottery funds, investment from Europe and an injection of cash from television companies keen to capitalise on the film boom means there is more money available than there has been for years. The lottery alone has boosted British film by more than £100m although even its biggest successes, such as Hilary and Jackie, Wilde and Hideous Kinky, have been only minor hits. Many lottery-backed films have never received a cinema release.

Although loath to name disasters publicly, it is understood Mr Woolley was particularly appalled by Rancid Aluminium, which starred Rhys Ifans and Joseph Fiennes and received Welsh Lottery Board funding, and Mad Cows, an adaptation of Kathy Lette's novel starring Anna Friel which received backing from Europe after being turned down for lottery funds.

Mr Woolley said more effort is needed to develop scripts properly and provide experienced production staff. He hoped the Film Council, which comes into being this month headed by the director Alan Parker, might help. "Knowing Alan, I think they will be able to identify talent and be supportive."

But he said the answer was certainly not to try to ape Hollywood. British success had come from using distinctive British material, such as weddings in Four Weddings and a Funeral, or the Scottish drugs scene in Trainspotting. "And whatever is big this year is certainly not going to be big next year. If everyone goes round trying to sound like Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, it's kind of lacklustre."

Mr Woolley, who has spent much of the past year promoting the work of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, has been nominated for a Bafta best film award for The End of the Affair, starring Ralph Fiennes.

The results will be shown live this evening on Sky Premier, but Mr Woolley said he did not expect to win. He thought the British Academy would follow the American Academy in honouring American Beauty, directed by Sam Mendes.

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