Producer and financier Maggie Monteith of Dignity Film Finance tells Screen about working with UK filmmakers and championing female-led films, including Carol Morley’s TIFF premiere Out Of Blue.
One of the UK’s busiest film financiers likes to stay out of the limelight and off the red carpet — Maggie Monteith of Dignity Film Finance was born in Glasgow and now splits her time between Georgia in the US and London.
Since setting up Dignity in 2011, she has invested about $31m (£24m) in films, mostly smaller UK independent projects. One of her recent investments marks Dignity’s most high-profile and biggest-budget film, Carol Morley’s Out Of Blue, which premiered in Toronto’s Platform section. Lead produced by Cairo Cannon, the film is also backed by Independent, BFI Film Fund and BBC Films.
Monteith was introduced to Morley, whose credits include Dreams Of A Life and The Falling, by Luc Roeg’s production and sales company Independent. Out Of Blue is a New Orleans-set crime drama, also with a metaphysical slant, starring Patricia Clarkson, James Caan, Jacki Weaver and Toby Jones.
“I was blown away by a lookbook that Carol showed me,” Monteith remembers. “I thought, ‘Someone who has thought about anything this deeply is going to be a safe pair of hands.’”
Monteith adds: “I find projects organically. I don’t go actively out to seek people; I like to be introduced to people by people I trust.”
She has a large network of contacts in both the UK and US — Monteith lived in Los Angeles for 18 years, where she worked as a marketing and distribution executive for the likes of Warner Bros and Columbia TriStar. “I had worked as a marketing and distribution exec on so many amazing films. That culminated on Star Wars: Episode II — Attack Of The Clones for Lucasfilm. How do you go back from that?”
She was then one of the first employees at Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media. “[While there] I enjoyed seeing the process of decision-making,” she says. “I thought it would be lovely to be the person who sees the film from its inception right through to the end.”
That is what she has become with Dignity, which raises its finance from private investors, mostly from the UK. Much of this funding is equity investment, sometimes mezzanine finance. The company can also cashflow the UK Film Tax Relief. Dignity can fully finance some smaller films. “I try to help producers get to a budget that’s rational and reasonable, and I position myself wherever I have the best chance to recoup for my investors,” she explains.
Monteith insists her films are strong investments. “We will recoup on all of them, ultimately, but some take longer to recoup. It’s just a matter of understanding how to manage the asset. Recoupment for me isn’t just about getting the money back; it means people are seeing the film.”
She also teams with other investors — for instance, with New Sparta Films and Scott Free on upcoming espionage thriller Neither Confirm Nor Deny. With New Sparta’s Sheryl Crown, she previously co-founded The Documentary Company, still active on recent films such as Ferrari: Race To Immortality.
She has some other regular collaborators: Welsh writer/director/producer Jamie Adams, now working on their fifth film together, Biffy Clyro collaboration Balance, Not Symmetry; and Noel Clarke and Jason Maza at Unstoppable, who she first worked with on hit Brotherhood.
Monteith sees herself as a creative producer, but is not always the lead hands-on producer. “I also work with wonderful producers like Gavin Humphries [Deborah Haywood’s Pin Cushion]. I don’t want to be a micromanager,” she explains. “I do like to bring my experience to bear on creative decisions — I love casting and production design.”
In 2018, Monteith has five directorial feature debuts in post: Tom Cullen’s Pink Wall, Jessica Hynes’ The Fight, Dolly Wells’ Good Posture, Juergen Bollmeyer’s 3 Way Junction and Rachel Hirons’ A Guide To Second Date Sex. This year has also seen the launches of Oliver Parker’s comedy Swimming With Men and Suzi Ewing’s thriller 10x10.
Backing newcomers is important to her, as is supporting female directors and heads of department. “My next big thing is to allow the voices to come through — Afro-Caribbean and Asian women, in particular,” she says. She is also keen to move into TV and animation.
Monteith is also taking advantage of her decades of experience in marketing to audiences. She has moved into UK distribution by founding PinPoint, which has so far handled small theatrical releases for Double Date, Kaleidoscope and Pin Cushion. “I feel like British audiences do want to connect with British filmmakers. We’ve learned a lot over the last eight months and we have a great plan to expand next year.”