It isn't easy giving 'Box' some love in the U.K.

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You'd think it would be easier to get distribution in the U.K. than in the U.S. for a uniquely English comedy like "Twelve in a Box," but you'd be wrong.

Like the old Ealing Studios comedies "Kind Hearts and Coronets," "The Lavender Hill Mob" and "The Ladykillers," "Box" packs some great -- but very English -- laughs.

Written and directed by John McKenzie, the film is set at a school reunion dinner in a remote English country home, where a dozen people learn they'll each get £1 million as long as they all remain on the estate for 96 hours. The big question: Do they all stay put or turn on one another and lose the money?

As an early fan of "Box," which in May won best U.K. feature at the British Film Festival in Los Angeles, I can tell you there are enough plot twists and turns to keep you laughing and on the edge of your seat until the film's final moments.

Driven by its success not just in L.A. but also at the Zurich Film Festival (audience award winner) and Boston International Film Festival (screenplay award), "Box" earned a domestic distribution deal; it opens Aug. 7 in L.A. via Cinevolve Studios and will expand to other top markets.

But how likely is it that American audiences will respond to something this English? "When you look at a film like 'The Full Monty' that was very English in style, I would have thought it's very unpredictable that that could have done what it did," McKenzie says.

"Monty" was wildly profitable with its $46 million domestic gross and $3.5 million budget. "We're hoping we could get something like that going with this one," he says.

At least U.S. moviegoers will get a chance to see "Box" in theaters. At this point, U.K. audiences don't have that opportunity.

"The U.K. is extremely difficult to crack with an independent film," McKenzie says. Although British distributors have told him "they love the film, they're nervous about it because it has no famous actors."

But now that McKenzie's obtained a U.S. deal, he says some of the Brits are willing to reconsider. "Strangely enough, I think that happened with 'The Full Monty,' " he says. "It couldn't get a U.K. release. Then it got a release in the States and then it came back to England. ... It's a weird process."

Meanwhile, McKenzie has had the satisfaction of making the film he had in mind from the start. A big deal was knowing he had access to the English mansion that's really the film's biggest star; producer Bruce Windwood is close friends with the home's owner.

McKenzie's script brought in the investors he needed. He says the budget was less than $5 million.

It was a short but stressful shoot. "Funnily enough, there was no problem at all with the actors," he says. "They enjoyed it. But because of the very tight schedule there were a lot of things to set up so it was very tough on the crew. It was the usual getting up at six in the morning and finishing at 10 at night. You do get worn out."

Another obstacle: Everyone had to contend with the English winter.

"The poor actors and actresses had to be wrapped up in woolly coats until the moment they walked on set. Then they'd take everything off, shoot their scene as quickly as possible and go sit in front of the big coal fire we had while the crew was freezing cold setting up the shots."

Rehearsing was limited to a few quick run-throughs. "We didn't rehearse the movie before we started the shoot," McKenzie says. "If you do that, you can get a rather stilted performance. If they come fresh on set and get it all pretty right the first time then you can go for a take straight away."

See Martin Grove's Zamm Cam movie previews on www.ZAMM.com.
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