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UK producers talk about 'downward pressure on budgets'

Stephen Evans, Paul Webster, Neil Thompson and Richard Holmes spoke at GlobeScreen conference in London.

Film finance isn’t easy, and never has been. But there’s money available for many levels of film if you approach the market correctly, expert producers said during a UK film finance panel at the fourth GlobeScreen conference at London’s Mayfair Hotel on Nov 20.

Stephen Evans of Britannia Films said: “It is tougher to make movies than it has been. But there’s nothing wrong with that because movies should be tough to make. There is the producers tax credit and the EIS schemes, so for cheaper movies it’s probably easier. When you move up to $10m-plus that gets tough. That depends your relationships with studios, broadcasters, distributors, whether you can actually get over that hurdle.”

Evans’ credits include Henry V and The Madness of King George and he is now financing a biopic of the legendary late golfer Seve Ballesteros.

Paul Webster of Shoebox Films, which recently produced Anna Karenina and Stephen Knight’s forthcoming Hummingbird,  added: “I made my first feature about 25 years ago and it was one of 28 made in Britain, now we make around 150-160 per year. The difference is now is that the market is polarized. For the independent film we’re sensing a huge downward pressure on budgets. That is in a nutshell due to the failure of the digital world to monetize itself to replace the old value chain of theatrical-DVD-TV… The middle ground the $10-$20m is becoming increasingly hard in the last couple of years particularly.”

One company concentrating on Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) funding for the past few years is Formosa Films, which has produced Clubbed and Twenty8k using such schemes.

Formosa’s Neil Thompson said of private equity: “Since 2008 that’s increasingly hard to get. But it’s coming back again. For our new projects, around the $6m range, we’re finding that distributors and sales agents and the international companies that you deal with that’s what they’re looking for is things that can be much more theatrically driven with bigger stars in them. So it’s low budget but with a much bigger budget than before.”

Richard Holmes, whose credits including Waking Ned Devine and Shooting Fish, has recently produced via his Big Rich Films the Welsh-set feature Resistance and the forthcoming Jadoo.  “I have found that since 2009-2010 I’ve been able to access more [finance],” he noted. “I am like a theatre producer right now, I go out with a film director and we find a room full of people who are high net work individuals. And I say, this is our idea. Here’s the filmmaker to tell you about the film.”

Thompson and Holmes agreed that working with EIS investors takes a lot of time and effort. Thompson said: “We thought we were going to be able to do it with a small number of people, high net worth individuals. But we ended up with them dropping out and we went far and wide and we had something like 100 investors in our first film. Of course that becomes a nightmare with administration. It becomes a job in itself to look after all the investors, but it is a way to raise money to make a film. It does give you an incredible amount of control and it’s an exciting way of making films.”

Holmes agreed: “They expect a bit of communication, like any investor. Shareholder relations is a big thing.” He said having that cash in the bank before a shoot started had made his job much easier, rather than continuing to raise money during production.

Evans said it was important that investors understand film is a risky business. He said: “Its important that people are prepared to lose money, it’s like being an angel. If you’ve got £10,000 to spare, probably the worst you’ll lose is £3,500. If you believe in the arts and you believe in film, it’s fine.”

Thompson added: “The kinds of investors we get are fully aware that chances are they won’t make money on it.”

For a producer, aligning with the right talents is key, the panel argued. Webster, who started working with Joe Wright on Pride & Prejudice and last year set up Shoebox with the director, noted: “We’ve got Joe there who helps us as a talent magnet, building talent relationships is key. A lot of our stuff is going to be eclectic and not particularly on the Working Title model.” For example, Shoebox is planning a lower-budget £500,000 project soon.

Relationships with the US are also key as Webster said there is “a lot of private equity there.” He continued: “There is interest in the UK there, with the talent base we have here it’s possible for a producer to put together an attractive package

Evans added: “If you’re going to America you have to spend a lot of time in America, it’s about relationships. If don’t know you, they’re not fucking interested, and that’s how it is. You get over the hurdle by actually going to see these guys.”

Other speakers at the event, which was sponsored by Naficy Pictures, Shortlist, Stereoscape and Digital Bulgaria, included Nik Bower from Ingenious, Kami Naghdi from Field Fisher Waterhouse and James Swarbrick from the Aegis Film Fund.

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