High Point Films’ Carey Fitzgerald says aspiring filmmakers need to understand the commercial world.

I recently returned from Cuba, where I spent a week sharing the ins and outs of international sales with Latin American film students at the famed Escuela Internacional De Cine Y Television. It was a rewarding and eye-opening experience in many ways, but perhaps what struck me most of all was just how aware these future film makers were of the commercial world beyond their borders.

It’s no secret that getting a film off the ground is a serious challenge and back here in the UK is no exception; for first-time filmmakers it can make raising the dead look possible! But it doesn’t have to be so headache inducing. As my business-savvy friends back in Cuba would agree, knowledge and understanding of the worldwide sales and distribution industry has to be an essential ingredient within the learning curve of any aspiring director, writer or producer. Put another way, commercial audience potential should be among the very first considerations for anyone thinking of transforming their ideas onto screen, and this is where industry professionals can really help.

We are already seeing really encouraging examples of how this can work in the UK. Curzon Artificial Eye, best known throughout the world as a successful distributor of award-winning art house films, recently teamed up with the London Film School and BBC Films to deliver Brian Welsh’s assured debut, In Our Name, now the proud winner of a BIFA for its lead actress, Joanne Froggatt [disclosure: High Point handles sales on the film].

Meanwhile, Film London’s Microwave scheme aims to deliver commercially viable films on affordable budgets that anticipate likely returns from the current market. Such schemes are essential in allowing a greater degree of dialogue to take place between those at the creative end and those of us at the industry coal face.

The UK contains some tremendous directing and writing talent, a fact made evident in the high standard of short films delivered through the various courses on offer. While perfectly fine as a calling card at festivals, however, it’s often very hard for budding filmmakers to break out further into commercially viable features. On the other hand, a first-time feature, supported by distributor experience, and deliverable on the same budget as many short films, will find more directions in which to travel.

Although it’s clear that production lies at the heart of the UK film industry, the role of the international distributor is essential in determining a project’s overseas viability and, therefore, commercial potential. For the UK film industry to thrive and be seen as a world contender, worldwide exploitation and promotion must play a vital role and I believe it’s a voice that must be included and heard at all levels of filmmaking.