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Global Showbiz Briefs: Rowan Atkinson, Film Education, The Hairy Bikers, Salon Pictures

By | Monday April 22, 2013 @ 9:00pm PDT

A sketch performed by Rowan Atkinson during British charity telethon Comic Relief prompted more than 2,200 complaints to the BBC and will be investigated by regulator Ofcom. The sketch in question saw Atkinson play a fictional version of the Archbishop of Canterbury who compared boy band One Direction to Jesus’s disciples and said praying “doesn’t work.” After the skit raised an uproar, the BBC removed it from its iPlayer and apologized saying it was “intended to amuse and entertain” but feedback had shown it was “problematic for a number of different reasons.” Ofcom is said to be investigating on the grounds of offensive language and generally accepted standards, The Guardian reported.

Film Education, a charity supported by the British film industry, has had its funding pulled and will close on April 26 with all staff to be let go. As a result, the UK’s National Schools Film Week will cease. The event was a free, annual program that brought kids to cinemas throughout the country – last year’s program included We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Awakening and Wild Bill. Founded in 1985, Film Education has been active in curriculum-based teaching resources, teacher training and cinema-based events across the UK. Its closure, the charity said, is a result of the decision by its primary funder, Cinema First, to end its financial support. Cinema First, a cross-industry body made up of exhibitors and distributors, recently supported a bid led by publicly financed orgs Filmclub and First Light to secure responsibility for the British Film Institute’s new 5-19 film education scheme 2013-2017. Read More »

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UK’s Top TV Talent Agent: ‘We’re Failing To Make Enough TV That Really Matters’

By | Tuesday September 20, 2011 @ 9:15am PDT

One of the UK’s most powerful talent agents has blasted British TV as an institution that’s run by “clever people making clever rubbish.” Peter Bennett-Jones, founder of Endemol-owned Tiger Aspect (Mr Bean, Billy Elliot), said last night at the annual BAFTA TV Lecture in London that “shaking things up needs to be a higher priority.” He added: “Original and polemical programming is in the casualty ward … My plea to writers is to pursue your passion, agitate away. We should be out there provoking and causing offence.” Bennett-Jones said that he disagrees with the priorities that Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and News Corp Deputy COO James Murdoch laid out in their recent Edinburgh TV Festival speeches. Schmidt said that programming decisions should be based on statistical analysis of viewing habits and data while Murdoch said they should be based on profitability. “I’m not saying ignore the data,” Bennett-Jones said. ”I’m just saying don’t have so much faith in it. Stop asking Picasso and Michelangelo to paint by numbers.”

Bennett-Jones’ comments are important: With a client list that includes comedians Rowan Atkinson, Eddie Izzard and Armando Iannucci, BBC news anchor Kirsty Walk calls Bennett-Jones “the man too powerful to piss off.”

But U.S. broadcasters don’t seem to agree. Bennett-Jones says that he has been battling with HBO on behalf of Iannucci, executive producer of VEEP, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “Anybody who’s made programming for American broadcasters realises that as a programme supplier you’re treated with less respect than you are here. … Read More »

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‘Johnny English Reborn’ Opens Strong Overseas

By | Sunday September 18, 2011 @ 9:38am PDT
Mike Fleming

We don’t really get him in the United States, but Rowan Atkinson continues to be a box office phenomenon most everywhere else. Universal opened his latest, Johnny English Reborn, this weekend in 15 territories internationally. The film finished number one in 13 of them, grossing $11.7 million in 1372 dates or $8,528 per screen. That makes the $45 million comedy the biggest opening of any of his films. That includes Bean, which made $207 million of its $255 million gross overseas; Mr. Bean’s Holiday, which made $196 million of its $230 million overseas; and Johnny English, which made $133 million of its $160 million worldwide total overseas. The sequel is in track to do north of $150 million overseas. There are 48 territories left to open, including Germany on October 6 and the UK on October 7, and Universal releases the pic in the U.S. on October 28.

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Hot Trailer: ‘Johnny English Reborn’

Mike Fleming

Universal Pictures and Working Title are out with a new trailer for Johnny English Reborn, the fumbling spy character played by Rowan Atkinson. Rosamund Pike and Dominic West also star. The film will be released Oct. 28. Why’s the studio making another installment of this franchise? Though Atkinson’s little known in the U.S., the 2003 original grossed $161 million worldwide, $132 million of it from overseas. Oliver Parker directed this one.

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Working Title: Why UK’s Most Successful Film Production Company Is Back In Its Wheelhouse

Over the past 16 years, Working Title has made Britain’s biggest-ever movies including Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Bean. The company headed by Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner is responsible for 96 films grossing $4.8 billion worldwide, 60% of which came from Universal’s 46 Working Title releases. (Working Title started off indie until 1992 when it was acquired by Polygram until 1999 when Universal bought Polygram and with it, Working Title.) Its movies have won six Oscars, 26 Baftas and prizes at Cannes and Berlin. Forget Korda. Ignore Puttnam. Bevan and Fellner are easily Britain’s most successful cinema magnates. Yet something almost always goes wrong every time they veer away from Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson, who are responsible for nine out of the top 10 highest-grossing Working Title films. There also has been a succession of political films and expensive thrillers. When it comes to deciding what to make, Bevan says everything starts with passion. So A Serious ManUnited 93, Elizabeth:The Golden Age, Burn After Reading, and The Interpreter put him in business with big stars or big directors or both. “These are A-list people that most producers would kill to work with. More than that, they feed your mind,” Bevan told me in a recent interview. It was Fellner and Bevan who gave Joe Wright a huge break and $28 million to direct Keira Knightley in 2005′s Pride and Prejudice, which made $121 million in worldwide box office gross and resulted in 4 Oscar nods for Focus Features/Universal. But Universal lost $50 million on Paul Greengrass directing Matt Damon in 2010′s underperforming Green Zone after its gross budget swelled from $80 million to $130 million (not including tax incentives).

“The last batch of movies represented them breaking free of the Working Title formula,” says one producer who’s worked with them. “In Hollywood, you’re judged by how you’ve just done, not what you’ve made over the years. So they’ve gone back to the formulaic stuff. It’s depressing.” Still, retreating “back in their wheelhouse”, as the American phrase goes, is also smart business. For now, Working Title is playing it safer. Indian Summer, a big budget movie about the last days of Britain’s colonial rule of India in 1947, has been dry-docked even though Joe Wright (Atonement) was set to direct Cate Blanchett as Lady Edwina Mountbatten. As Bevan says in an interview with me, “You don’t produce a misfire and then not take heed from it.” Fellner adds: “It’s a consolidation period for us. A retrenchment period.” To that end, Working Title made six staff redundant in July last year, reducing headcount to around 40, which is historically what it’s always been.

Working Title’s latest release is the sequel to Emma Thompson’s Nanny McPhee Returns which Universal releases August 20th. Upcoming projects include Johnny English Reborn starring Rowan Atkinson and Gillian Anderson, as well as the Richard Curtis comedy Lost For Words, and a third Bridget Jones movie. The first Johnny English, which cost $40 million to make, earned just $28 million in America but did enormous business internationally grossing $132 million overseas. That’s typical: Working Title movies routinely make 2/3s of their gross outside of North America. Bevan tells me, “The thing that always sets us apart is that we’ve always done so well in the international marketplace. If there’s going to be any growth in this business, it’s going to be outside of North America.” And yet, waiting for Bevan and Fellner in their office building, I realize that Working Title has always struck me as being intensely London — as much a part of the city as red double-decker buses, Trafalgar Square, and pigeons. Even its logo used to look like the symbol for London Underground.

When Bevan and Fellner first sat down with then Universal CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr in 1998, Read More »

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Johnny English Recruits Gillian Anderson

gillian_andersonEXCLUSIVE: The X Files star has been cast as MI7 secret agent Pamela Head in Johnny English Reborn. The Working Title film starts shooting in September. Anderson stars opposite Rowan Atkinson, reprising his turn as the buffoonish spy. She’s represented by CAA and Independent Talent in London.

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