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Who Said Stripping Wouldn’t Pay Off?

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

“To all the people who worked on it, it was just this little film,” said Simon Beaufoy, sounding decidedly dazed. “But I guess it’s not just a little film anymore.”

Screenwriter Beaufoy was discussing “The Full Monty,” the low-budget movie shot in Britain without any stars in its cast. The film, about a group of unemployed English steelworkers who turn to stripping to make money, is implausibly the underdog success story of this year’s Oscars.

“The Full Monty” was nominated for best film, and Peter Cattaneo received a nod as director. Beaufoy was among the nominees for best original screenplay, and Anne Dudley’s score was mentioned in the musical or comedy category.

“Four nominations isn’t bad, considering the fact that when we first wanted funding for the film, we didn’t have much luck,” Beaufoy noted.

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In the end, Fox Searchlight, the Fox subsidiary that produces low-budget films for a niche market, financed “The Full Monty” in full for a total of $3.5 million. Fox Searchlight now finds itself in Oscar contention with its parent company, which financed (along with Paramount) the expensive blockbuster “Titanic.”

How different are the films in budget? Fifty-seven “Full Montys” could have been shot for the $200 million it cost to make “Titanic.”

Beaufoy received the news of the film’s success in his native Yorkshire, near where “The Full Monty” is set. He had traveled from London, where he lives, to complete a new screenplay there.

“I was rather shocked,” he said modestly. “It’s been a big British success, but though the film did very well in America for a small film, it wasn’t so much, compared with bigger films. [It has grossed some $40 million in the U.S. and almost $200 million worldwide.]

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“But a great deal of its success is due to loyal and passionate audiences. I have come across people who have seen it eight times. It’s like a drug. People go to see it to get a hit of energy.”

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Last month “The Full Monty” overtook “Jurassic Park” to become the highest-grossing film in British box-office history, with receipts of some $78 million. Tuesday’s four Oscar nominations mark another milestone in its improbable success story.

“The film opened at a good time in America,” Beaufoy noted. “It was [in theaters] along with big films like ‘Lost World,’ ‘Men in Black’ and ‘Spawn,’ which rely a lot on effects.

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“And here was this little film about ordinary people. I think everyone was relieved, for instance, to see a film with a fat person in. It’s as if films were being reclaimed by normal people. Which was nice.”

“The Full Monty” was the first of Beaufoy’s scripts to be filmed. But another project, which he wrote before “The Full Monty,” has recently wrapped: “Among Giants,” a comedy about steeplejacks, starring Pete Postlethwaite in his first romantic role at age 52. It was made for the BBC, and a British distributor is being sought.

Originally called “The Tower Man,” Beaufoy’s “Among Giants” was read three years ago by producer Uberto Pasolini, who liked it so much he decided to ask Beaufoy to write an idea he had for a film. This turned out to be “The Full Monty.”

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First-time feature director Cattaneo heard the news of the film’s success in Prague, where he is shooting a commercial. “I’m completely surprised by the nominations--especially mine,” he said. “It’s just absurd.

“I had a gut feeling Simon might get one for his script. And I’d been wondering if I’d get an invitation to the ceremony if he was nominated.”

Cattaneo was unaware of efforts to secure nominations by Fox Searchlight. “I don’t read the trade press,” he said.

“I hope the film’s an inspiration to other filmmakers. It shows you really can make a little film with a lot of heart, and it can do the job.

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“But if someone had told us all this would happen when we were shooting two years ago on a hillside, we’d have laughed. I only hoped I’d get away with it, and maybe someone would let me direct again. It was a big pressure, directing my first film.” Now Cattaneo hopes to make another this summer.

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Producer Pasolini was having lunch in a London restaurant when the news of the four nominations reached him. “I spilled my coffee,” he said.

“I’m particularly happy Simon’s work was recognized. It was difficult tonally to touch on all the issues in the script without making it too heavy or too vulgar.

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“I’m not sure we have much chance on the night, when you look at the opposition. But I’m not complaining. This was an ensemble piece, which made it hard for individual actors to be recognized. But I think the best picture nomination recognizes the work of the cast.”

Pasolini has no specific projects lined up yet. “I’m working on strategy,” he said. “I want to build on what we achieved here and make it easier to get a film made next time.”

Surely “The Full Monty” will be a strong calling card? “Yes,” he said. “It’s become an event, not just another successful movie. Even the title is back in the vernacular. The film will stay in people’s minds longer than most.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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The Oscars

* The Times’ Web site has the latest news about the Oscar contenders, photos, video clips and more. Point your browser to:

https://www.latimes.com/HOME/ENT/MOVIES/ACAD/


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