Axed tax fund exiles pic to Isle of Man

LONDON — Johnny Depp starrer “The Libertine” has been refinanced and will start shooting March 3.

The $22 million movie was due to roll Monday but lost 30% of its budget two weeks ago when the British government axed certain types of tax financing.

Producers Russ Smith and John Malkovich of Mr. Mudd have struck a deal with Isle of Man Film to replace the equity investment they were due to receive from First Choice, one of the outlawed funds.

As part of the deal, the movie will shoot its interiors in studios on the Isle of Man, an autonomous island between the U.K. and Ireland, instead of at Bray Studios near London as originally planned.

First Choice, run by tax financier Grosvenor Park, had already put some coin in the project and has agreed to leave that investment in the pic. It helped to broker the refinancing to prevent the project’s collapse.

Industry lobbyists have spent the past two weeks pleading with the government for transitional arrangements to protect projects that were already deep in pre-production when the ax fell on the tax funds. But the government has yet to respond, and projects have started to fall apart. John Madden’s DreamWorks movie “Tulip Fever” was the first to go down last week.

“The Libertine” ran out of pre-production cash early last week, and Smith said that he was not willing to wait any longer for news from the government. “We felt that this thing could drag on, and films were going to go down, and we could not be a victim of that. Grosvenor Park, to their credit, agreed.”

“As was always the case, our primary motivation is to ensure that a commercial British film gets made in Britain,” Grosvenor Park managing director Dan Taylor said. “It has been commonly misunderstood that our use of tax relief to manage the risk of film investment reflected a disregard for the success of the film. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as First Choice investors have a real economic interest in the film’s performance. The government’s announcement was a body blow to the British film industry, particularly to films about to start shooting.”

“The Libertine” is the first of the half-dozen projects most at peril to secure new financing. Pic, directed by first-timer Lawrence Dunmore, is an 18th century drama about the notorious Earl of Rochester, famed for his lascivious poetry. It co-stars Malkovich and Samantha Morton. Worldwide sales are being handled by Odyssey Entertainment.

Malkovich is shooting “Color Me Kubrick” on the Isle of Man; that made the move to the island much easier for “Libertine.” “This is a very attractive location to make films,” Malkovich commented. “The newly built soundstage in Ramsay will provide everything we need.”

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