Perseverance and patience are their own rewards
Say, hypothetically, you’re an American producer who wants to make a biopic of that quintessential English poet Sir John Betjeman, and your temperamental director won’t listen to your brilliant idea of shooting in Louisiana for the tax breaks.
After working out that Latvia, Hungary and Ireland would all be more expensive anyway, you agree to shoot in good old Blighty. You line up Simon Pegg for the lead, Jason Statham for the best mate, Kate Winslet as the wife and Judi Dench as the poet’s mother. Steve Coogan agrees to take a cameo after you meet him in the bathroom at a party in Beverly Hills.
But will anyone in the U.K. give you any money to de-risk the hedge-fund guy whom you roomed with at Harvard and has agreed to front most of your $20 million budget? The U.K.’s tax credit already slices 20% off the cost, but which doors should you be knocking on to find local coin?
First stop is the U.K. Film Council, whose Premiere Fund has $14 million a year to invest into mainstream British movies. It likes trans-Atlantic biopics (think “Miss Potter”) because they stand a good chance of U.S. distribution. It would probably be happier if Zac Efron was playing Betjemen, but if you insist on a Brit, then Pegg has the right populist credentials.
If your director is a seasoned auteur beloved by festival directors but ignored by audiences, you could try your luck at the UKFC’s New Cinema Fund, which has approximately $8.5 million a year for artier, more experimental work. It recently backed “Bright Star,” a biopic of poet John Keats by Aussie helmer Jane Campion.
BBC Films and Film4 might take your call, but these days they rarely invest in anything they haven’t had a big hand in developing. However, BBC Films did also step into “Bright Star.” The separate BBC acquisitions team might take a look at the U.K. TV rights — it prebought the Danish-made, Scottish-shot Viking movie “Valhalla Rising.”
Film4 will get involved with foreign talent or producers at the development stage, as it did with French outfit Back Up on “Vinyan” by Belgian helmer Fabrice du Welz, and Anglo-French venture the Bureau on “Unmade Beds,” a London-set drama by Argentine helmer Alexis dos Santos.
Some regional screen agencies will offer equity in return for location shooting — notably Screen Yorkshire, EM Media, Screen West Midlands, Screen East, and the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish bodies.
If you fancy a few weeks on the Isle of Man, CinemaNX would consider your project. It’s the new production company backed by the $100 million Isle of Man film fund and has the capacity to bankroll the majority of a midsized budget, but it needs to see a commercial return on its investment.
The U.K. has a hugely competitive indie distribution sector with several options for presales, including Entertainment, Lionsgate UK, Momentum, Icon, Pathe, Optimum and Metrodome, most of which are now part of larger international sales and distribution groups. There’s also no shortage of stand-alone U.K.-based sales agents to help with the financing, such as Ealing, HanWay, Odyssey, Protagonist, HandMade and HS Media, the new merger between Hammer and Spitfire Pictures, which is bankrolling Joshua Michael Stern’s “King Lear.”
Since the clampdown on tax loopholes, there has been a considerable shakeout in the U.K.’s tax finance sector. Prescience is one of the last companies standing, bringing individual British investors into movies such as “44 Inch Chest” and “Easy Virtue,” and Ingenious is still hovering around. Matador Pictures operates a series of equity funds for low-budget pics under the government’s Enterprise Investment Scheme, most recently backing “Wild Target” from CinemaNX.
With the U.K. banks ever more cautious about film finance, Aramid is a one-stop shop for debt, offering around two-thirds of the budget to cover the tax credit, gap, mezzanine and presales. Limelight also lends against the tax credit and tops that with gap finance. Post houses such as Framestore and Lipsync have also started making small investments in production.
So despite the tough climate for indie film finance, your Betjeman biopic isn’t short of options. Just don’t expect any help from the Slough town council.