LONDON - Speaking to Variety, David Abraham, chief executive of U.K. broadcaster Channel 4, has reaffirmed the network's support for independent British filmmaking following news that Tessa Ross, controller of film and drama, is to leave in September.
Ross has been a doughty champion of innovative and risk-taking independent filmmaking during her decade-long tenure as head of Channel 4's filmmaking arm Film4, which has backed such films as Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave," Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" and Kevin Macdonald's "The Last King of Scotland."
"In a creative leadership role like this there's a clear set of parameters set out in our remit," he says. "What I would expect is that the tastes and the passions of the person who takes the role will, over time, build on what Tessa has done, and inevitably there will be new flavors that will come from that leadership."
Abraham emphasizes that the basic strategy of Film4 will not change.
"There is a clear link in our remit around what we are meant to be doing with Film4 in terms of that balance between both developing new talent and supporting established talent in projects that have a very distinctive flavor, and doing that in as sustainable way as we can, because Channel 4 is doing this from within the body of its activity as a broadcaster, and effectively the funding of Film4 comes from within the revenues that we generate as a commercial broadcaster."
Abraham also underscores the link between Film4 productions and the Film4 channel and Channel 4 in terms of the windowing of the films once they come out of theatrical distribution.
"That basic model that underpins it won't change, but of course you'd want a strong creative leader to bring their own perspective to their editorial choices," he says.
Ross' departure is unlikely to have a large impact on Channel 4's drama output as the part she plays in this respect is a "support role" to the head of drama, Piers Wenger, Abraham says.
"There is often overlap in terms of talent between film and drama, so you want a close collaboration. On a day-to-day basis our drama is run by Piers," Abraham says.
"Because Tessa has a drama background, there are a certain number of talent relationships that she would have supported Piers in, but there's quite a lot that he would have brought in himself and will continue to do that once Tessa goes."
Given that Channel 4 is a "pretty intimate organization," in Abraham's words, Ross and Wenger, who reports to Jay Hunt, Channel 4's chief creative officer, have worked closely together, and that is likely to be true of Ross' successor too.
"There would have been a regular conversation between Tessa and Piers around directors, writers, and creative opportunities, and certain projects migrated between the teams, so the work of Shane Meadows began at Film4 and migrated into drama, and the work of Danny Boyle has been in Film4 but recently migrated into Piers' drama team," Abraham says, referring to Boyle's recent TV police drama "Babylon."
"That is one of the things that enrich Channel 4's relationship with talent, in that we are offering opportunities in both mediums. That is increasingly where the energy is these days, between film and TV," he says.
Channel 4's approach to filmmaking will remain distinct from that of the BBC, he says.
"We are more experimental. We have got a stronger track record in working with first-time directorsâ¦ and that has been reflected quite often in the awards for first-time filmmakers," he says.
"The BBC's editorial choices tend to be somewhat more mainstream than ours, and our product is a bit more youthful, and has a bit more edge and is more experimental. 'Under the Skin,' which was in development for about 10 years, is a piece of work that is clearly experimenting in so many aspects of filmmaking, and that connects to, again, some of the core purposes of Channel 4 that is to experiment in the forms of the medium."
The British production sector has been evolving in the past few years, with several production companies having been bought by Hollywood majors or other multinational media companies. To help sustain the independent sector, Channel 4 has launched its Growth Fund, through which it will invest up to Â£20 million ($33.3 million) over three years to take minority stakes in small- and medium-sized independent production companies to help them grow and develop.
Abraham says that this move to assist fledgling companies is in line with the broadcaster's remit. "One of the reasons we are doing that is that in order to deliver the remit of supporting the new, one does need to have a healthy ecosystem in which you are counter-balancing the consolidation that exists amongst the bigger companies, and that is certainly the case in terms of television production.
'12 Years a Slave' Backer Channel 4 Pledges Continued Support for Indie Filmmaking
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