McGurk: Time is right for prod'n powerhouse in U.K.

Working Title serves as a template

Former MGM and Universal Studios highflier Chris McGurk said Monday that he thinks there is an opportunity to build a powerful production base in the U.K. to fuel international filmmaking ambitions.

McGurk, now heading Overture Films, the movie production and distribution subsidiary of Liberty Media television giant Starz, told The Hollywood Reporter that he thinks now is the time to create another production powerhouse in the mold of Working Title Films.

"Having spent the best part of a year of my life persuading those guys (Working Title) to sign a deal with Universal, I know what it takes," McGurk said, adding that the day he left Universal to go to MGM as vice chairman and COO was the day Working Title inked the deal with his former employer.

McGurk, in town to see shooting begin on Overture's Dustin Hoffman-Emma Thompson starrer "Last Chance Harvey" — written and directed by BAFTA winner Joel Hopkins — cites "Harvey" as a perfect example.

"I think there is an opportunity to create something as important all over again here," McGurk said. He declined to detail specific producers or talent deals, however, saying only that "we're talking to everyone."

McGurk and his team at Overture certainly make for an attractive proposition to wannabe filmmakers. With Starz's backing, he describes Overture as having full "studio-quality distribution" in place in the U.S. and plans to make 10-12 movies a year.

"For its investment and belief in us, Starz will get to grow a library of titles to feed its myriad outlets," McGurk said.

He also has drawn up an international web of partners for Overture's slate of titles, with arrangements with Paramount Vantage for sales duties and Paramount Pictures International for physical distribution duties on a film-by-film, fee-by-fee basis.

Said McGurk: "We might hold back on a few territories on certain titles. We might get Paramount Vantage to sell all international rights. And we always have the option to roll out a picture through Paramount Pictures International. It's a flexible situation."

Such a tapestry of distribution, with the invaluable U.S. pay TV sector sealed through Starz, gives McGurk's setup at Overture "tremendous leverage in dealing with our filmmakers."

He said, "It means that at the budgets (of up to $30 million) we have, we can let them go away and, without interference, make the film they want."

McGurk also thinks that having the power to make a snap decision and greenlight a project at that level adds to Overture's nimbleness.

He also is hopeful that going forward, Overture will co-produce titles with Paramount and other studios.

"What we have tried to do here (at Overture) is build a structure that is going to attract filmmakers and talent to make movies with us," McGurk said.