Euros buy creative freedom

Co-financing deals allow for offbeat material

LONDON — Universal may own 100% of Working Title, but it does not pick up 100% of the bill for the movies or the overhead.

In fact, WT toppers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner have bought a measure of freedom to pursue their own instincts for offbeat material and new talent by laying off as much as half the risk through co-financing deals with France’s StudioCanal and various U.K. tax funds.

StudioCanal’s contribution to WT’s budgets and overheads is believed to be in the region of 25%, getting all French rights and a worldwide backend position in return. It’s an arrangement that appears to satisfy all sides, even though U would doubtless be happy to go it alone. The fact that it doesn’t have WT’s movies in France is one reason U is in no rush to launch its own Gallic distribution arm.

Fellner, who at one time sat on the StudioCanal board, says: “They are absolutely our No. 1 supporter, and they are proper partners. They have stuck with us, and we believe we should do the same thing with them.”

Bevan adds: “It’s nice having a European element, it’s an emotional thing, and it sets us apart.”

Frederic Sichler, managing director of StudioCanal, explains that the relationship is “very important” for his company because of the “consistency and quality” of WT’s lineup. “They are fundamentally English and fundamentally international in their excellence,” he says.

Working Title also has tapped the new breed of U.K. tax finance, known as GAAP funds, for most of its slate in the past couple of years. These deals typically provide equity worth 25%-30% of budgets. Its regular partner is Scion Films, which did tax deals for “Pride & Prejudice,” “Catch a Fire,” “Gone,” “Smokin’ Aces,” “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” “The Golden Age” and “Atonement.”

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