Restructuring at BBC Films leaves some seeking focus

Plan calls for more 'cross pollination'

BBC Films, the stand-alone film unit for U.K. pubcaster the BBC, is losing its stand-alone tag at the corporation, leaving the industry to ponder the question: "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"

The corporation is rejiggering the way it is structured, but the fuzzy picture of what that means to the staff at BBC Films, the relationships the unit has spent more than 10 years building and its editorial line in moviemaking, might not come into sharper focus anytime soon.

BBC controller of fiction Jane Tranter, now in Los Angeles, issued a statement Wednesday detailing her sketchy plans to change reporting lines on movies.

On paper, Tranter already oversees BBC Films, contrary to the industry perception of its autonomy.

Tranter talked about "the synergy between films and television" and how she is looking for "greater cross pollination" but that "it is also true to say that we have not as yet worked through exactly how best to achieve this closeness.

"Clearly the uniqueness of both film and television needs to be protected, and we are in the very early stages of looking at this," she added.

But because her plans and the BBC strategy remain unresolved, no one wants to go on the record as jobs are on the line.

"Change (in reporting) is always unsettling and people leave," a BBC insider said. "The big worry is that such talk unsettles our filmmaking partners, who we have spent years building relationships with."

Members of the U.K. film production industry said Wednesday that it is ironic that such "unsettling" activity began to emerge just as BBC Films is gearing up to shoot "Revolutionary Road," produced by Scott Rudin, Bobby Cohen and John Hart and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

Directed by Sam Mendes, "Revolutionary" is co-financed with the BBC by DreamWorks.

A BBC spokesperson said funding levels (now at about $20 million a year) will remain the same through the changes and that the editorial and cultural involvement in movies at the BBC is "unlikely to change overnight, if at all."

For her part, Tranter said the BBC's support of and investment in film and drama "will continue more powerfully than ever." But there is no doubt that in the potboiler atmosphere of Cannes, the wind of change at the BBC has unsettled producers.

"It seems the BBC has revealed a desire to change before working how what the change is going to be," one BBC insider said.