Duo has small screen on Slate

TV arm, sister company, kids' toons all part of plan

LONDON -- U.K. movie production banner Slate Films, founded by Andrea Calderwood and Vicki Patterson in 2000, is ramping up its small-screen activities in a bid to diversify after more than six years as a player in the film arena.

The duo are busying themselves with the new-look strategy, which includes a television production arm, Slate Television, and a Glasgow-based sister company with established producer Ros Borland, named Slate North.

Slate -- whose recent big-screen credits include the multiple award-winning "The Last King of Scotland" -- also is bedding down a relationship with Scottish animation company Ko Lik Film to develop kids' toon pilots for 4- to 7-year-olds.

Calderwood, a former BBC Scotland films and drama executive, knows just how important "the wee screen" can be.

She says the appeal of working in television is that there are many more opportunities to work with broad drama compared to film.

"It's a much better business. And British television producers get to keep their rights internationally more regularly," Calderwood says.

Calderwood, who also is vice chair of the feature film committee at trade body PACT, says that film remains a cottage industry in the U.K., with only a handful of producers able to survive as full-time movie producers.

Patterson, whose resume includes a spell at Good Machine in New York, thinks television allows producers to offer writers the opportunity to get their words on-screen more speedily.

"The division between film and television is much bigger in the U.S. than it is here," she says. "But here, working in television is a good opportunity to work with great writers and actually get their projects made."

The pair thinks that television helps focus producers' minds because going to commissioning editors with pitches means concentrating on material that everyone believes there is an audience for. "Film is director-driven, television is writer-driven," Calderwood adds.

The big idea now is to build on Slate's existing projects and talent relationships with the aim being to focus on developing mainstream television drama in a systematic way, specifically targeting primetime slots for returning series and single dramas for slots.

So far so good. The ink is just drying on a brace of high-profile television deals that Slate has struck with BBC Scotland, the pubcaster's Scottish arm.

Slate optioned and developed Denise Mina's series of Glasgow-set books about a young trainee investigative journalist who tends to step over the line when trying to get stories. Slate and BBC Scotland have teamed to produce five six-episode seasons for the main BBC network.

Screenwriter David Kane, who has written for the big and small screen, is set to pen the first series of six one-hour episodes titled "Field of Blood" and "The Dead Hour."

Slate also has secured an original series written by Amanda Coe, one of the scribes from hit television show "Shameless." Coe's series revolves around two female cops -- one a hard-bitten Met officer, the other a young, naive Scottish police officer -- who form an uneasy alliance.

Pitched as a mainstream re┬Čturning series for BBC 1, the show is set to be piloted later this year before going into production in 2008.

Slate's aim would be to exec produce the shows and hire individual producers for the hands-on producer duties. Says Patterson: "That's our initial strategy for television production, to have the day-to-day production overseen by someone on set for us."

That is partly because the duo is busy juggling movie projects as well.

Slate Films has a slew of movie projects in various stages of development, with a brace at Focus Features and one with Lionsgate U.K. on board.

With Focus, the company is developing "Border Crossing," based on the novel by Pat Barker with a script being penned by Andrew Bovell. Director Cate Shortland ("Somersault") is set to helm the Australia/U.K. co-production, which details the story of a man convicted of murder as a child who returns to confront the psychiatrist he holds responsible for his conviction.

Focus also is developing another script with Jeremy Brock for Slate to produce, but the African material is currently tied up in a libel case.

The project with Lionsgate U.K. is titled "Stiff," inspired by the Mexican flick "El Bulto" (The Lump), from scripter Dan Mazer. U.S. producer partner Jodi Cahn of Firebird Films has been on board from the beginning and brought the project to Slate.

Mazer is lined up to direct his own script, which details the story of a 1980s rock god who wakes up after 20 years in a coma to find out his popularity is not quite what it was.

Calderwood also is producing "Generation Kill" for HBO Films, a seven-hour scripted miniseries based on the true story of Marines fighting in the Iraq war.

Elsewhere, Slate is prepping low-budget, Scotland-set movies for next year including "Wasted," a drama set among young homeless people in Glasgow. The project will be co-directed by Caroline Paterson and Stuart Davids, from the Raindog theater company. Also on Slate's slate is "Me and Ma Gal" with Scottish Screen from a script by Des Dillon from his own novel. BAFTA award winner Adrian McDowall is directing.