Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

We've Had a Golden Year for Film but Money Is Drying Up; on the Edge: Channel 4's Tessa Ross Believes That Film-Makers Must Be Allowed to Take Risks Winning Ways: Slumdog Millionaire (Left) and Hunger Directed by Steve McQueen (Seen Right with Michael Fassbender during the Making of the Film) Have Been Hits for Film4

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

We've Had a Golden Year for Film but Money Is Drying Up; on the Edge: Channel 4's Tessa Ross Believes That Film-Makers Must Be Allowed to Take Risks Winning Ways: Slumdog Millionaire (Left) and Hunger Directed by Steve McQueen (Seen Right with Michael Fassbender during the Making of the Film) Have Been Hits for Film4

Article excerpt

Byline: NICK CURTIS

THE godmother of British film is pleased but apprehensive.

As head of drama and film at Channel 4 Tessa Ross presides over a gilded time for UK cinema, but the future is uncertain.

Commercial and critical international hits that Ross produced in 2008, such as Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, Steve McQueen's Hunger and Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky were lauded at yesterday's Evening Standard Film Awards. So were smaller successes by first-time feature directors, Martin McDonagh's In Bruges and Lenny Abrahamson's Garage. With a bunch of Baftas already in the bag, Slumdog is next up for 10 Oscars.

But these triumphs must, Ross says, be set against an inevitable downturn in the British film industry as the recession deepens, and the ramifications of cash-strapped Channel 4's likely merger with Five or the commercial arm of the BBC.

"It's great to have the work celebrated," says Ross, a 46-year-old bundle of effusive charm. "And because a lot of awards have recognised a lot of our films, the range of the work has been more prominent. How great that Mike Leigh feels this is a good home for him, and we can support and look after him and give him his freedom. That we can work with Steve McQueen and support directors on their first features, like Martin McDonagh, who made his first short film, Six Shooter, with us and won the Oscar for it. And in the middle of it there's Danny Boyle, who started as a film-maker at Film4 all those year ago with Shallow Grave and Trainspotting.

The range is enormous, but perhaps not so odd given that each has great authorship, representing the filmmaker's very clear vision." Ross believes that Film4's role as part of a public-service broadcaster lies in nurturing new u "by which I don't necessarily mean 'young'" u talent and allowing established film-makers to take risks. "The privilege of my job is that the first question I can ask is 'will this be good?', before asking 'will this work?', in terms of making money," she says. "We will never be the place where people come to get rich but we can be the place where they can be the best of themselves." But in film it always, eventually, comes down to money.

Ross's film budget from Channel 4 has been steady at [pounds sterling]10 million a year for some years. Peanuts in Hollywood terms but enough to fund script development, shorts, and seed money that will kick-start a feature project and secure TV rights for C4.

She has kept the number of Film4 productions, around six a year, roughly on a par with those of the better-funded BBC Films, partly by setting up a lowbudget studio with the Film Council and distributors Optimum. This digital production house, Warp X, made the shocking genre thriller Donkey Punch and the sleeper-hit docu-comedy The Complete History of My Sexual Failures for under [pounds sterling]1 million apiece.

Working across TV and film drama also allows for economies of scale and crossfertilisation.

Ross also sees Film4 as part of a wider creative community. Working Title, the US-backed studio that produced Frost/ Nixon, is part of it. So are the BBC and BBC Films, for whom she co-produced Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot in 2000, shortly before joining C4. All of them will have to weather the inevitable downturn together..

"We will see a reduction in the number of British films produced this year," she predicts. "There is already less money around than last year and that is true across the board. A lot of film production depends on borrowing from banks, and that is going to be difficult. Equally, a lot of our" u she means Britain's rather than Film4's u "larger films are made with American distribution, and that has got smaller. There are not that many partners we can go to. A lot of people will say, 'Oh, good, the dross won't be made'. But I'm not sure that's true. In a year when you can take 20 risks you will be more sure of success than in a year when you can take 10. …

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