Scott Free U.K. Unveils Ambitious Slate (Cannes Exclusive)

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British writer-director Christopher Smith, whose four films behind the camera to date have been horror, gore and thrill-filled, is developing a children’s Christmas movie involving Santa Claus, missing reindeers, a freshly-released-from-prison getaway driver and his son.

Smith, whose resume includes Severance, Black Death and Triangle is writing a second draft with a view to directing the as-yet-unnamed Christmas film for Scott Free U.K., the British production company set up by filmmakers Ridley and Tony Scott.

The aim for the British production label from the Scott brothers is to ape the success in England of the L.A. banner.

Scott Free U.K. head Liza Marshall, a former Channel 4 drama chief, told The Hollywood Reporter she hopes Smith’s project will go later this year “depending on how it is received by potential partners” but is optimistic it will get going this year.

Scott Free U.K. has a first look deal with 20th Century Fox and will be showing it to them “in the first instance.”

The project details the story of a young boy who ends up having to save Christmas with the help of his initially skeptical father who has just been released from prison.

Marshall, who joined Scott Free U.K. at the end of 2009, is overseeing a rapidly expanding development slate packed with optioned properties.

“We thought it would be a good way to source ideas and get things moving on our development roster,” Marshall told The Hollywood Reporter. “There’s not as strong a culture of filmmakers and writers pitching ideas in the U.K. as there in the U.S.”

The company is also in the advanced stages of development on writer/director Rowan Joffe’s big screen adaptation of S.J. Watson’s debut novel Before I Go To Sleep, a psychological thriller about a woman who wakes up next to a man without any memory of how she got there and who the man next to her is. He’s her husband.

Big roles and strong female lead roles feature heavily on the company’s development roster.

Marshall said a young adult novel, Blood Red Road, has particularly caught the eye of Ridley Scott. Set in a post-apocalyptic world and due to be published in June by author Moira Young, it is being adapted for Scott Free U.K. by Jack Thorne (The Scouting Book for Boys).

It tells the story of a girl who sets out to rescue her twin brother after he is snatched by mysterious black-robed riders who ride in on their steeds out of nowhere. It is due to be published later this year and is the first in a trilogy, with potential franchise written all over it.

Another potential franchise for Scott Free in the U.K. is author Glen Duncan’s planned trilogy of novels, the first of which is The Last Werewolf. It details the dark, sexual tale of a 100 year werewolf who is thinking of giving himself up to the were-hunters at the next full moon but, on a train to Paris, is intoxicated with desire by the smell of a female werewolf. Marshall is finalizing a deal with a writer and hopes to reveal all in the next few days.

Oscar winner Emma Thompson is executive producing and will star in another Scott Free development script, Settle Down, written by Katy Brand. Brand and Thompson appeared on screen together in Nanny McPhee and The Big Bang.

While Marshall is in Cannes to firm up potential partners for Scott Free U.K.’s projects, the company is also exec producing the James McAvoy and Mark Strong starrer Welcome to the Punch, being sold at the Marche du Film by IM Global.

Billed as a gritty British take on Michael Mann’s Heat, the movie is produced by Rory Aitken and Ben Pugh.

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