French financing specialist BackUp Films is celebrating its fifth anniversary in style at Sundance, where its first English-language film, Zoe Cassavetes' Broken English, is playing in dramatic competition.
A uniquely European outfit, BackUp structures projects and puts together financing packages for creative producers. While this approach to business is well known in the US, it is less common in Europe where national funding restrictions make trans-border work trickier. But the company is keen to deal with international titles and believes the Sundance selection confirms its ability to cross borders.
Each of BackUp's principals has his own speciality. Olivier Aknin, a former Fox Lorber and Films Distribution executive, brokers deals with broadcasters, distributors and sales agents; David Atlan-Jackson, formally a production co-ordinator at Gaumont TV, tracks projects and assesses potential financing schemes; international media lawyer Jean-Baptiste Babin handles European and national authorities and negotiates co-production agreements; and Joel Thibout, also a former Films Distribution executive, manages BackUp's relationship with banks, funds and investors.
In the last five years, films such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes Jury Prize winner Tropical Malady and Fabrice du Welz's debut Calvaire have benefited from the BackUp treatment. In the pipeline are du Welz's second feature Vinyan and Patrice Chereau's $20m The Monster Of Longwood, which BackUp will structure as a UK-France-Germany co-production.
As BackUp is based in Paris - a "European financing hub par excellence," according to Aknin - the company boasts a keen understanding of the types of local equity and tax schemes available, while avoiding the pitfalls tied to national subsidies. But, he adds, BackUp is not exclusive to France: "Sometimes it makes sense to (finance) a film here but if it doesn't make sense we don't do it."
Broken English is a case in point. Although the film was partially shot in Paris, it is a US-Japan co-production. With no French elements, the film could not take advantage of local funding options but BackUp partnered with Vox3 Films and HDNet in the US and Japan's Phantom Film.
Good relationships and partnerships with national authorities, banks and high-net-worth individuals have enabled BackUp to launch its Coficup tax-based film investment fund (currently $5m) which will keep fundraising on a yearly basis. The scheme offers gap financing to international profile French-qualifying independent films, including non-French-language films.
Says Babin: "We're thrilled to be going to Sundance for the first time with Zoe's film in competition. It's also a great occasion for us to give the US industry players we haven't yet worked with an understanding of the financing opportunities available in the non-US markets, especially in Europe."