In a credit crunch, necessity must be the mother of invention. That is the view of a growing number of industry players, including Mark Herbert and Barnaby Spurrier, who called on film-makers to innovate their way out of the present economic difficulties, at Screen International's UK Film Finance Summit last week.
Mark Herbert, managing director of Warp Films and joint managing director of Warp X, whose recent hits include Dead Man's Shoes, This Is England and Donkey Punch, urged film-makers to focus on consumers and to draw on innovative skills when producing, marketing and distributing films.
When making Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes back in 2004, Warp Films' budget was restricted to $1.3m (£750,000). Costs were saved by shooting on location, filling the soundtrack with unsigned acts and using practical lighting and a limited crew. "We based the size of the crew on the number we could fit into a minibus," says Herbert.
Warp Films' most profitable release to date is Chris Morris' 2002 Bafta-winning short film My Wrongs 8245-8249 And 117. In its first month, 18,000 units were shipped to retailers. "The key thing is the film that made the most money is the one we sold ourselves."
Herbert puts the film's success down to Warp's direct link with the consumer. With his feature films, he wants to maintain that link. "People come from film school and don't have any idea how films do internationally," Herbert claims. "Every Thursday we do a box-office sweepstake in the office. The sweepstake shifts people's understanding to the end user."
Warp X has a strong relationship with Film4 and with distributors such as Optimum Releasing. One of the benefits of the relationship is that it keeps the company consumer-focused. In the past, the company's executives have met with two "end users" in Film4 and Optimum and together they decided which films are added to the slate.
Consideration is also given to incentivising talent. Herbert views the talent corridor scheme proposed by Film4 as one of his key successes. The scheme works in such a way the talent receives 25% of what is recouped, while the financiers and Warp X receive 50% and 25% respectively.
He also advocates innovative marketing. "We can't survive by production fees alone, we need to look at new ways of working. We need to start to communicate with distributors, sales agents, exhibitors and retailers. Unless we do, we're in a tricky situation." Warp Films recently persuaded Vue Cinemas and HMV to work together on a marketing strategy for a recording of an Arctic Monkeys concert.
Barnaby Spurrier, founder of Tomboy Films, was also on hand at the Screen International conference to discuss Eurostar's collaboration with film-makers on Meadows' Somers Town. "A black-and-white film which has 30% Polish dialogue seemed an unlikely prospect for success," he says, but the innovative concept saw Eurostar obtain brand positioning without having to resort to overt product placement.
The Somers Town formula may not be easily replicable but this has not stopped other companies, such as Sony, from approaching Spurrier and his team. He believes people are wary of product placement, - as far as he is concerned, Somers Town "is more like the commissioning of public art".