Jacqueline Hurt talks about the role of the lawyer in film financing deals, the rise in the number of sales companies and the film policy review.
A partner at London based media law firm Olswang since 2000, Hurt specialises in financing, production and distribution of films and television programmes, in particular co-productions with any combination of government subsidies, tax-based finance, distribution pre-sales and banking finance. Prior to joining Olswang, Hurt worked at London law firm SJ Berwin.
What trends were you seeing at Cannes this year, from a lawyer’s perspective?
The market was quite quiet. I got the impression that if you had a good project of course it’s going to sell well, but there were less projects about that people were getting excited about.
It’s harder to get projects off the ground. I had a meeting with Wild Bunch and they are looking wider than they have before for projects, trying to develop relationships with UK producers and other producers that are not in France, or have relied on before. I think a lot of people are trying to widen their contacts in order to develop business, because there is less business going on.
What do you think of the rise in the number of UK sales companies?
It’s interesting. There is a lot of competition between sales agents in the UK. I don’t know how that will play out, whether all of them will survive. I’m hoping what it means is that there will be an increase in UK films that are able to reach the market. But it could mean there will just be more sales agents chasing the same projects. It could go either way. But I’m worried that maybe the market can’t sustain so many.
What was your reaction to the Film Policy Review?
What I liked about the Film Policy was that it was so wide ranging, both industrially and culturally. It was about trying to encourage everyone to engage with particuarlly British film from an early age and I liked the emphasis on digital.
I also liked the discussion on what can be done to help independent distributors in relation to the virtual print fee, because I do think the way it is structured is a disadvantage to independent distributors.
What I don’t know is how much some of it can be forced onto the industry. There was the other suggestion that there be some discussion between distributors and exhibitors about flexibility with regard to theatrical windows. It will be interesting to see if that does actually progress.
What is interesting was the film policy panel’s confirmation that the vision award, which allows funding across a number of development projects, should be continued. I think that is good.
What trends are you seeing in terms of funding films in the UK?
There are more private equity investors than there ever used to be coming into British films. From America, Europe and the Middle East. I think it’s partly because there is very little return on other investments and if anyone wants to make a slightly different investment where they might get a return, film offers an alternative investment and can offer quite a big return if the film hits. There have always been private investors in US movies, but it’s encouraging to see private investors putting money into UK movies.
What impact do you think the government’s plans to extend the tax credit to high end TV projects and animation will have?
I think it’s very exciting. I’m hoping that will be excellent for the TV industry, both in keeping projects here and attracting external productions The US and European producers I have spoken to are all very excited, as are UK producers. The consultation paper is just about to be published, so we are going to have a look at that when it comes out and respond to it. And we will speak to our clients. Some of our TV clients aren’t familiar with the film tax credit, some will be familiar with it, like Ecosse, and we are keen to get their views on what works and what doesn’t and what changes need to be made.
What have you been working on recently?
We worked for Anton Capital last summer on the deal to raise €150m to co-finance the StudioCanal slate over the next three years. It was a very good deal for StudioCanal in the way it was structured. We were able to bring in our French law office to help on some of the French documents. Our Paris office opened in February.
And I’ve been working with Gaby Tanner on a couple of her projects. She brought me in to act for the private equity investors that she had brought in on The Invisible Woman. We are helping another European company raise a film fund, but I can’t say what it is yet!
Would you like to see more slate deals like the Anton Capital/StudioCanal deal?
Yes, but the trouble in Europe is that there are not many people who have a slate or have the ability to produce a slate. StudioCanal is one of the few.
Is there a danger that the film financing/production process can become “overlawyered”?
It depends how sophisticated your client is as to how much you need to tell them. Nobody wants the deal to go on forever or to be overlawyered. Because no one is going to make any money that way. The important thing is to identify at the outset what the issues are and not mess around with things that aren’t important. I think that’s what lawyers bring to the table if they know what they’re doing. We are able to make things happen as a result of understanding the business and being well placed.