As UK authorities increasingly crack down on tax abuse within the film business, a London crown court on Wednesday found British director-writer-producer Richard Driscoll guilty of a £1.5M VAT fraud. According to HM Revenue & Customs (the UK’s IRS), Driscoll “falsified invoices for the costs of making films in order to reclaim VAT back that he was not entitled to and set up a number of associated companies that were used purely to commit the crime.” The films in question included Eldorado, touted as the first modern British movie shot in 3D. A comedy/horror/musical, it is said to have featured Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Jeff Fahey, Steve Guttenberg and former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy, with narration by Peter O’Toole. It was never released theatrically, but a DVD is listed for sale on Amazon in the UK, also under the title Highway To Hell. Two other films in connection with the case,
On Sunday February 13th the British Academy of Film and Television Arts will present Sir Christopher Lee with the Academy Fellowship at the Orange British Academy Film Awards ceremony at London’s Royal Opera House. Awarded annually by the Academy, the Fellowship is the highest accolade bestowed upon an individual in recognition of an outstanding and exceptional contribution to film. Previously honoured Fellows include Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Sean Connery, Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Christie, John Barry, Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Hopkins, Terry Gilliam and Judi Dench. Last year’s recipient was Vanessa Redgrave.
Just last week, the literary agent for UK author Patrick Ness was in Los Angeles discussing film rights to his celebrated Chaos Walking children’s book trilogy. “The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say,” is the brilliant opening line of the first book The Knife Of Never Letting Go but Ness’ agent Michelle Kass tells me she has been deliberately holding off selling the rights, despite big Hollywood interest, until after Candlewick published the final book Monsters of Men in September. But Kass admits there are some problems with trying to turn Chaos Walking into the next Harry Potter. “First, the book takes place in a world where everybody can hear everybody else’s thoughts. Second, it has some very adult moments. But I think that the Chaos Walking books could be turned into an astounding film, and it’s not just a children’s film.” Her trip west couldn’t be better timed. It comes just as British Prime Minister David Cameron is exhorting the UK film industry to make more fantasy films based on bestselling British children’s authors, even going so far as to tell the House of Commons: “I think one of the keys to Warner’s success is the Harry Potter film franchise which they have been making. There is a great tip and key for filmmakers here. That is, we have got to make films people want to watch.”
Warner Bros in particular has been searching for another British kids fantasy franchise to replace Harry Potter now that it’s coming to an end. It needs to put something in its $161 million studio facility that will reopen in north London in mid-2012. The studio has just renewed its option on UK educator turned author Joseph Delaney’s children’s fantasy series, The Spook’s Apprentice, which has been in development since 2005 and is now called Seventh Son. Sergei Bodrov has been hired to direct, and Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures are co-financing. They’re co-producing with Lionel Wigram, executive producer of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and a new children’s author himself, and Basil Iwanyk of Thunder Road (Clash Of The Titans). The book tells the story of a 13-year-old boy who is apprenticed to a forbidding wizard though I’m told the Warner Bros’ script now concentrates on the 2 teenage characters in the novel. Sounds like they’re making it more Harry Potter-ish.
This Fall’s line-up in London’s West End lacks the star power of previous years. Gemma Arterton (Tamara Drewe) and Derek Jacobi are the biggest name draw this autumn. Last year, Rachel Weisz, James McAvoy, Jude Law and Helen Mirren all trod the boards. “Looking at autumn’s West End line-up, it’s certainly slim pickings in terms of star power,” theatre consultant Richard Andrews tells me. Ironically, it’s the battered British film industry which is to blame. A number of ambitious British films are shooting or are about to go into production, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, My Week With Marilyn and Thatcher, all tying up top-flight actors. And then there’s the usual Hollywood talent drain. “It’s cyclical,” agent Michael Foster of talent agency Peters Fraser and Dunlop tells me. “Winter will see bigger names announced for the stage.” As on Broadway, it’s becoming increasingly hard to put any kind of show on. That is why theatre producers have to be conservative in their choices, which must appeal to coach parties.
UPDATE: The UK government agency supporting the film industry in East Anglia has gone out of business because of financial problems. Finance manager Melvin Welton has been arrested on suspicion of theft. Laurie Hayward, CEO, told local newspaper Norwich Evening News: “The directors of Screen East have concluded that the company is insolvent and can’t meet its debts as they fall due. The directors have taken advice and appointed an insolvency practitioner to take the company into administration. We’ve no further comment at this time.” Hayward confirmed that Welton had been arrested though and a police spokesman said: “Norfolk Constabulary can confirm that a 61-year-old man from Great Yarmouth has been arrested on suspicion of theft and released on bail pending further inquiries.”