After a quarter-century as an indie producer, Jeremy Thomas has nothing left to prove — which may be why he doesn’t mind admitting to the occasional misstep.
Having rejected a nearly $1.5 million bid from Lions Gate at Cannes for North American rights to David Mackenzie‘s “Young Adam,” he recently accepted a “considerably lower” offer from Sony Pictures Classics.
“I didn’t play my cards correctly,” Thomas says ruefully. “That’s life as an independent producer.”
Thomas originally was holding out for the $2 million he needed for his backers to recoup their investment. He hoped positive exposure at the fall festivals in North America would help him reach his target price.
But when “Young Adam,” a Scottish sexual drama starring Ewan McGregor, was invited to Telluride, New York and Toronto, Thomas realized he needed a U.S. distrib to share the cost.
Lions Gate never came back to the table, having spent its money instead on Lars von Trier‘s “Dogville.” So Thomas took his four lower bids back to his investors. The SPC offer wasn’t the highest, but it was the most aggressive in terms of P&A commitment and back-end.
“The investors felt it was the deal most likely to get them their money back,” Thomas says. “But the three distributors left out went ballistic. They won’t take the risk to get the film made, but they get so uptight when you close a deal with someone else.”
His reaction to this experience is typically inventive. In future, he would like to experiment with handling his own U.S. distribution for low-budget movies like “Young Adam” that he manages to finance without a U.S. pre-sale. He cites Newmarket and IFC as examples of how low-cost operators can succeed with niche marketing.
“The independent film business has changed radically,” he muses. “I have to look at building my house from different foundations.”
MPs grapple with Brit pix
Despite its grand name, the House of Commons Select Committee for Culture, Media & Sport is not a particularly impressive body. Chairman Gerald Kaufman is a savvy cinephile with enough smarts to have once, in the dim and distant past, served in government, but the other members are a ragbag of parliamentary second-raters.
Their haphazard questioning during the committee’s five-month enquiry into the state of the British film biz bemused many of the industry witnesses called before them. It was a missed opportunity to get real answers, under oath, to some fascinating questions — such as, what did the lottery franchises do with all that public money, and precisely why didn’t Gurinder Chadha make a penny from the U.K. release of “Bend It Like Beckham”?
Yet somehow Kaufman managed to come up with some perfectly sane and measured recommendations in the final report, published last week.
It’s hard to quibble with the suggestion that tax breaks are “absolutely essential” to the industry, or the notion that the government should move quickly to end the uncertainty about whether they will continue beyond 2005. The call for broadcasters to be more supportive of British filmmaking (without specifying how or why) is more debatable, but it certainly reflects the consensus within the Brit film community.
What’s odd is the grudging tone in which the report is framed. “The nature of the British film industry is perhaps not what we would wish it to be,” it says. “Ideally, we would prefer the main activity to be indigenous production of films about Britain.” In reality, the report sighs, Britain spends much of its time servicing major Hollywood productions or co-producing movies abroad.
There’s something rather old-fashioned about this yearning for a more “British” film industry. It fails to acknowledge that the ever more constructive engagement with Hollywood and the rest of Europe is not a symptom of chronic weakness, but a sign of relative health in an extremely tough global marketplace. And that attitude undermines the best case for continuing the tax breaks, which is that they are creating success, not mitigating failure.