Independent international film-makers who come to the US in search of financing are making “a wasted trip”, the Oscar-winning producer Jeremy Thomas said over the weekend.

Speaking at the launch of the FIND Filmmaker Forum in Los Angeles, Thomas told an audience that the stricken economy and the demise of numerous US distributors had left the US independent sector “screwed up”, although he fully expected the market to bounce back.

In a wide-ranging on-stage conversation with Los Angeles Film Festival director Rebecca Yeldham, Thomas mused on the possibility of setting up his own US distribution network and expressed enthusiasm for the digital revolution.

Thomas, the 1988 best picture Academy Award winner for The Last Emperor, also revealed that his recent Toronto opener Creation had already been illegally downloaded “40,000 times” from the internet.

“It’s an incredible thievery, an incredible banditry,” Thomas said, adding that the online piracy had taken place on something like 20 websites. Newmarket plans to release Creation in US theatres in December and HanWay Films holds international rights.

Returning to the challenges of the US independent sector, the veteran producer said: “It’s an unnatural moment but [other distributors] will come up. Lots of people are seeing that gap in the market and it’s going to come back.

“You must all feel confident about that and work with an optimism. There’s always a wall – on every movie there’s a wall,” Thomas said. “But you continue and continue and continue and that’s what independent film-making is about.”

Until then he urged young film-makers to broaden their horizons in the gut-wrenching search for funds and to look as far afield as Russia for a pre-sale.

He cited Sexy Beast, the hit UK-Spain gangster film he produced that came out in 2000, as an example of a financing paradigm from a bygone age, explaining that the film secured 40% of the budget when Fox Searchlight pre-bought North American rights. “That will not happen again.”

Government funding for cinema in Europe and other parts of the world, he said, had been “crucial” for his career. “Unfortunately in America there’s very little of that because it’s seen as a market-driven vehicle… there’s no development money.”