StudioCanal has stepped up to fully finance Working Title’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It is a significant deal for all parties.

The announcement that StudioCanal was fully financing Working Title Films’ Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy passed with little fanfare last week. But the news held not a little significance. It’s the first time that Universal or a Universal subsidiary hasn’t been involved in a Working Title production in over a decade, since the PolyGram days.

The film, budgeted at just under $30m, is of course based on the celebrated Cold War novel by John Le Carre which already spawned the iconic 1979 BBC TV series starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley. Tomas Alfredson, the in-demand Swede behind Let The Right One In, is directing, and Gary Oldman has taken on the role of Smiley with a large ensemble cast in support including Colin Firth, Tom Hardy and Mark Strong.
For StudioCanal, it’s a rich prospect. The novel and TV series are blockbuster properties in the UK where the company’s subsidiary Optimum Releasing will handle distribution; the novel is iconic in France where StudioCanal distributes itself, and the Cold War is a topic of endless fascination in Germany where the company’s Kinowelt subsidiary will distribute.

The French giant will sell remaining territories itself including the US. It’s a great European opportunity for StudioCanal, which of course has had a longterm co-financing partnership with Working Title and Universal, to reap upside in its distribution territories.
The deal on this film is also perhaps symptomatic of the shift in the studio system away from intelligent adult drama. This year, the tireless Scott Rudin is behind Sony’s The Social Network and Paramount’s True Grit, but, looking at next year’s US release schedule, Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is about the only classy drama so far dated out of a major.

Obviously Rudin, Spielberg and a handful of others still have the clout to get this kind of film made in that system, but with the closure of many specialised divisions and the focus of corporate parents on tentpole movies and brands, literary adaptations or adult dramas have fallen out of the picture.
From Universal’s point of view, Working Title’s recent adult dramas – Green Zone, State Of Play, Frost/Nixon – have underperformed. The studio would far rather have Johnny English 2 (currently in production) or nature adventure Everybody Loves Whales which have more “four quadrant” appeal.

Which leaves the opportunities for the independents to pick up the slack. Few in France would consider StudioCanal an independent, falling as it does under the same umbrella as pay-TV giant Canal Plus, but it is destined to be a key non-studio player in the evolution of the global business over the next decade.

It has already scored a hit this year with Eli Roth production The Last Exorcism, has the UK, France and Germany on The Tourist, a $100m+ production starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, and has initiated UK and German local language production programmes in addition to French.
A greenlight decision can be reached quickly at StudioCanal, and top-flight film-makers like Working Title and Alfredson can expect a respectful relationship with a company which is rooted in French cinema culture. The filmmaker-friendly StudioCanal has existing relationships with the likes of Bertrand Tavernier, Walter Salles and Park Chan-wook.
Working Title rose to stardom under the umbrella of a failed European studio model in PolyGram Filmed Entertainment. It is now further cementing its ties with a 21st century model which could become the world’s new hub for intelligent commercial cinema.