Copyright 2001

[ November 16th 2001 ]

Birmingham film company Winchester Entertainment has Hollywood's biggest names knocking on its door after the box office success of its first blockbuster Heartbreakers, but chief executive Gary Smith has promised not to get 'star struck'.

Former accountant Mr Smith, who has been on the phone to film star Michael Douglas 'every day this week' planning a new film, said the company would chose its new film collaborations carefully. "We've had 20 big producers that have wanted to deal with us, but we have turned them all down - with the exception of The Donners and Wind Dancer - because we have to feel comfortable with them. Investors in Winchester can sleep easy at night knowing we are not star struck in any way," he said.

The Donners - who directed the Lethal Weapon and X Men films - and Wind Dance have agreed to give Winchester first call on any film scripts they get their hands on in return for covering part of their overhead costs. The pair are working on over ten scripts at the moment and Mr Smith said he hoped two would begin production in the Spring.

He added the strength of the relationship with the Donners became clear when they recommended not investing in a Tomb Raider-style version of the Playstation game Crazy Driver, because they had heard something better was in the pipeline. It turned out to be a Mel Gibson-fronted drama called Sam and George. "They said, 'we want the first film we give you to be a big one'. It shows a lot about their approach," he said.

Winchester has also hired one of the best, and most expensive, entertainment law firms in Hollywood - Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca and Fischer - to make sure the big film studios like Paramount and MGM know they mean business.

"If you're going to swim with sharks you have got to have sharks to protect you," he said. The lawyers' retainer contributed to a jump in operating expenses, during the six months to the end of September, from pounds 843,000 last year to pounds 1.4 million. This combined with a pounds 22 million rights issue last November to knock earnings growth, with earnings per share down to 2.6p from 3.3p last time.

But pre-tax profits did increase to pounds 1 million from pounds 972,000 last time on pounds 4.13 million of sales - nearly double the turnover seen last year. A first time interim dividend of 1/1p, costing the company pounds 150,000, is paid.

Winchester still has pounds 11 million of the pounds 22 million raised last year and has said it has pounds 4 million in license fees heading its way in the second half. The shares closed yesterday at 1581/1p having initially fallen 5p on the concern the company would miss its broker's full year profit forecast of pounds 4.5 million.

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