London-based Head Gear Films is having a boom year backing larger-scale films starring the likes of Julianne Moore and Mickey Rourke. Phil Hunt tells Michael Rosser about fostering more relationships with the US.

It has been an extraordinary year for Head Gear Films, the London-based film investment firm led by Phil Hunt.

After spending a decade investing in around 70 movies, the past 12 months have seen activity ramp up significantly with $34.8m ploughed into 27 features including Samuel L Jackson thriller Big Game and crime drama Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Head Gear’s sister international sales company, Bankside Films, has also enjoyed a period of major growth with a string of successes in the international marketplace.

Hunt points out that while Head Gear has a growing appetite to invest in third-party productions, the finance company will always back Bankside titles.

“With Head Gear’s backing, Bankside has become much more aggressive in its acquisitions policy and we are now financing and distributing films of larger scale with world-class writers, directors and cast,” says Hunt.

One success story to come out of the arrangement is Belle, Amma Asante’s period drama about a mixed-race woman raised by her aristocratic great-uncle in 18th century England, which made more than $15.5m at the box office.

“We put some late-stage development finance in after seemingly everyone had passed on the project,” Hunt recalls. “Bankside saw its potential so we helped piece the finance together. It was a great movie, a great deal and also performed at the box office. It did everything we always hope films will do.”

Titles on Bankside’s AFM slate that Head Gear has co-financed include Julianne Moore drama Freeheld, Mickey Rourke feature Ashby and Morgan Matthews’ X+Y, which debuted at Toronto.

‘We now have the knowledge to make better judgments on which films we believe will find the right audience with the right budget’

Phil Hunt, Head Gear

Hunt, a former advertising and music photographer who began producing films in the mid-1990s, says part of the shift is down to confidence in judging what films can deliver.

“With the wealth of experience we have accumulated over the years, we now have the knowledge to make better judgments on which films we believe will find the right audience with the right budget,” he says.

The long way round

This is no overnight success. Hunt first looked to launch a company 12 years ago after meeting writer-director Greg Cruttwell on UK indie film Chunky Monkey. They brought in a third partner, investor Compton Ross, and Head Gear Films was launched in 2002.

“We started out as a production company and went into business to create fantastic movies,” recalls Hunt. “We spent a couple of years developing material and produced [2004 crime thriller] Rabbit On The Moon as the first film Head Gear had invested in.”

Hunt says their model reflects the US system. “It is like we’ve adopted some of the American model of putting finance in ourselves to be able to better control production,” he says. “I’m not from a financial background and neither is Greg, but Compton is, having worked as a company director for over 30 years in international commerce and industry. The common element is we just want to create great movies.”

The seed of Bankside Films was first planted in 2006 when Head Gear struck a pact with Australia-based sales outfit Beyond Films. At the time, Hilary Davis and Stephen Kelliher were running Beyond’s London office. “We all began talking about forming a sales company and decided to create Bankside Films as an integrated group, allowing us to work together but also as standalone companies,” Hunt says.

Davis and Kelliher left Beyond and Bankside launched in 2007. “Head Gear’s success today is as a direct result of Bankside,” Hunt emphasises. “Head Gear has been there from the start to assist with financing Bankside movies but also offer bespoke financing solutions to films around the world from tax credits to providing bridge finance equity.” The outfit has funded up to 100% on Bankside projects such as Ashby and has gone as high as 50% outside of its sister company. Investment to date has ranged from $80,000 to $7.2m on films with budgets from $560,000 to $65m.

Asked about the future of Head Gear, Hunt predicts: “The door is wide open. We want to invest in everything from documentaries to animation and studio films. As long as the deal fulfils our criteria, we can move very quickly.” Head Gear’s upcoming investments include crime drama Trespass Against Us, starring Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson, Rufus Norris’s London Road and Martin Amis adaptation London Fields.

Ahead of AFM, Hunt says he wants to foster relationships between Head Gear and US partners. “My goal for AFM is to get this message out loud and clear to LA,” he says. “You’ve got four or five similar companies in your town who can provide large chunks of finance. Well, there’s one in London too that can move quicker and more efficiently than the ones in LA. It all comes back to the love of film and supporting talent.”