U.K. finance, production co. looks ahead

LONDON — At a time when financial institutions are backing away from Hollywood and when the indie film sector is struggling, U.K.-based finance and production company Future Films is ramping up its efforts to become a player on both sides of the Atlantic.

Thanks to a deal with a venture capital trust, $300,000 in development coin from the European Union’s Media program and a strategic alliance with sales company Handmade Intl., Future Films has three features in production and has just refinanced a further two features out of its U.S. office.

The banner is also branching out into new media through its digital distribution subsid GroundUp Media, which recently launched its own IPTV station AnnabelCarmel.TV, aimed at mothers with young children.

“I don’t think there’s anybody else in the U.K. doing all this other than Working Title and the majors,” says Future Films topper Stephen Margolis. “It’s taken a lot of work for us to show people we’re not just a sales-and-leaseback company but a real producer of films.”

The shift away from primarily dealing in helping producers maximize U.K. tax credits — the loopholes for which have been systematically shut down by the U.K. government over the last two years — into an actual producer is a key part of Margolis’ strategy to expand Future Films. Since he split from co-founder Tim Levy, who has gone on to form Future Capital Partners, which includes the Aramid Entertainment Fund, Margolis has attempted to forge alliances with key creative producers.

The most fruitful of these has been with Ridley and Tony Scott’s Scott Free banner. Future Films is co-financing and producing siblings Jordan Scott’s debut feature “Cracks,” about a group of girls at an elite British boarding school, and Jake Scott’s “Welcome to Rileys,” about a couple grieving after their daughter’s death and brought together by a troubled young woman.

James Gandolfini is starring in “Rileys,” while Eva Green headlines “Cracks.”

Future Films is also 100% financing Simon Fellows’ “Malice in Wonderland,” a modern take on the fairytale set in the northeast of England, and is the majority funder of Emily Young’s “Veronica Decides to Die,” based on the Paolo Coelho book and starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. “Veronica” was the first feature to take advantage of New York state’s recently tripled tax incentive for film and TV productions.

The recent shake-up of the U.S. indie scene hasn’t put Margolis off expanding Future Films’ activities. To the contrary, the exec sees opportunity in the current supplier-controlled market.

“There has been a surfeit of liquidity thanks to hedge funds, and the result is a market deluged by product and distributors now low-balling their prices. It’s a shock for producers to deliver their films now, only to find that New Line, Picturehouse and Paramount Vantage don’t exist anymore,” Margolis says. “The old model no longer worked, but there’s still an opportunity out there for the British film industry if films are made in the right conditions. The films being made now stand a chance, because in 12-18 months, distributors are going to need something new.”

While other planned initiatives include getting back into Australia to utilize the tax offsets there, as well as launching a digital film channel, currently titled Projector, to give Future Films an additional longterm revenue stream, the biggest factor still missing from Margolis’ portfolio is a deal with a U.S. studio, akin to Working Title’s deal with Universal. Without that, the Future Films topper may find his plans to become the next Working Title remain a work in progress.

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