C4 `taken to the cleaners' over cash for film

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The Independent Online
Channel 4 was accused yesterday of being "taken to the cleaners" over its investment in the most successful British film ever made, Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, told the National Heritage committee of MPs investigating the film industry that the company had put up £800,000, a third of the entire budget for the film. He said the return was likely to be around £4m, though box office receipts are already well over $200m (£300m) worldwide.

The Labour MP Joe Ashton asked him: "Why were you taken to the cleaners? It does seem there should have been some sell-on rights that you weren't aware of."

Mr Grade only partially answered when he replied that distribution, marketing and other aspects of production took slices of the profits, adding: "Our actual equity investment was only £400,000. A £4m return on a £400,000 investment is a nice little earner for anybody."

Earlier, Will Wyatt, managing director of BBC Network Television, was asked if it was essential to have a British film industry, with so many films now being financed by television. Mr Wyatt replied: "I wouldn't say it was essential," though he added that overseas earnings and the nurturing of film-makers made it very desirable.

Mr Grade later took issue with Mr Wyatt, saying: "The BBC answer was less than robust. I think the film industry is essential. It is a tremendous creator of employment." Mr Grade said that Channel 4 would immediately double its £50m investment in Britishfilm if the Government's "grotesque anomaly" of the Channel 4 funding formula were ended.

At present, he said, Channel 4 had to give £50m to the shareholders of ITV which went not into programme making but into shareholders' pockets.

However, Lord Attenborough, actor, film-maker and former deputy chairman of Channel 4, said that there were big dangers in television funding so much film production. He told the committee: "The budgets are obviously much smaller and subconsciously we have indoctrinated our film-makers into preparing films and programmes for a proportion of the scale, which does not benefit cinema but dissuades the writers from creating something for cinema scale because their chances of getting backing are a million toone. Television and cinema are two quite different forms. There is a magic still in 1995 in going into that great black hole and experiencing a film with hundreds of others."

Lord Attenborough said even the habit of having coffee in cinemas arose from a generation of television viewers who could not watch a film without it.

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