Three of the UK's top independent production companies - Ecosse Films, Recorded Picture Company (RPC) and Samuelson Productions - are working together to establish Visible Films, which will work as an Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) taking advantage of the UK government's new film tax credit.
Peter Watson, CEO of RPC, says producers banding together is a sign of strength, not weakness, in the UK industry. "The driver is this new film tax credit, which gives producers equity," he explains. "We're leveraging that position to secure ownership in films and raise investments for production businesses."
Under EIS rules, Visible will be eligible to raise up to $46m (£24m) although the parties stressed there is no guarantee of an amount to be raised. Budgets for the backed films (yet to be announced) are expected to be in the $7.8m-$19.5m (£4m-£10m) range.
Watson notes that combining the EIS idea with the new tax credit is "completely above the board. They aren't mutually exclusive."
The UK government passed EIS legislation in 1997 to encourage private investment in entrepreneurial businesses, while the new tax credit has recently come into effect for films shooting in the UK.
Unlike various intermediary schemes set up during the previous Section 42 and 48/sale-and-leaseback era, Visible will offer the track record of the producers as well as the aim of building a long-term film business.
"All three companies want to build sustainable, substantial companies. We're not about making one film and then three years making another one," producer Marc Samuelson says. The three partners say they hope the scheme will be active for at least "several years".
Watson adds: "The other crucial factor is that this is not an investment product with several agendas. It's producers coming together with their best projects."
Visible will back up to 45% of any individual film's budget. No projects are confirmed yet because no funding has been raised, the partners say, but each company has several projects in active development.
Robert Bernstein of Ecosse notes: "Because the EIS company will be one of the main investors in a film, there will be a much better chance for a realistic upside." Samuelson says the scheme would limit the downside to 26% of investment.
Film finance veteran Anne Sheehan helped devise the tax structure of Visible, and will administer it and liaise with the three production companies. She will serve as executive producer on each film produced by Visible.
Sheehan notes that Visible will also fund third-party projects in addition to projects already in the development pipeline at the three production companies. Each firm will continue to offer a slightly different sensibility - Ecosse's track record includes Mrs Brown and the forthcoming Becoming Jane, RPC has made films ranging from The Last Emperor to Sexy Beast to Fast Food Nation, and Samuelson's recent films include Stormbreaker and The Libertine. Bernstein says: "We make different sorts of films but they all have strong theatrical lives and have a life on video."
Working together makes more sense than companies creating individual EIS products. "There are certain costs, such as regulatory costs, that we can share," Watson says. "We also get to share expertise."
Bernstein adds that the fund could help all three producers with international ambitions: "If producers can bring a certain amount to the table, it can bring us a higher profile internationally as well."