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U.K. indie producers see opportunity

Film production expands despite financial crisis

Where there is crisis, there is sometimes opportunity.

With that in mind, some U.K. indie film producers are staring down the challenges posed by the global economic downturn and actually expanding their businesses.

Revolution Films topper Andrew Eaton, previously best known for being Brit helmer Michael Winterbottom’s producer, has begun work on “Red Riding,” his most ambitious project to date. The three-part feature-length TV skein, which is being made with coin from U.K. pubcaster Channel 4, is an adaptation of British novelist David Peace’s quartet of books set around the hunt for the notorious Yorkshire Ripper serial killer from 1975-1981. While the project will bow on TV in the U.K. next spring, it is being sold theatrically in international markets, with France’s Studio Canal handling foreign sales.

Jeremy Thomas, whose producing credits include Bernardo Bertolucci’s award-winning “The Last Emperor,” has a clutch of projects just-wrapped, in production or about to start lensing, including helmer Jon Amiel’s Charles Darwin biopic “Creation” as well as “High Rise,” an adaptation of seminal British novelist J.B. Ballard’s nightmarish portrait of the tenants of a skyscraper descending into tribal warfare.

After AFM wraps, he is set to unveil what will be his biggest-budget project to date, in the $70 million range.

And while the previously overflowing source of coin provided by U.K. hedge funds is drying up in the short term, companies such as Future Films, which has shifted away from primarily helping producers maximize U.K. tax credits to actually producing their own projects, are finding silver linings amid the cloudy financial forecast.

“For those that can survive the short term cash flow problems, there are positive signs in the medium to long term,” says Future Films chief exec Stephen Margolis. “Films will go back to achieving their expected prices from buyers and producers also will have to make films for more moderate budgets. It’s no accident that we are where we are now following a period of excess liquidity and excess product on the market.”

A little creativity goes a long way.

Eaton, for example, has managed to bypass the credit crunch by utilizing funding from both public and private sectors, as well as film and TV bodies.

“Red Riding” is predominantly funded by Brit pubcaster Channel 4, which has kicked in almost all the $10 million budget. The project has managed to attracted some of the cream of British directing and acting talent. Helmers Julian Jarrold (“Brideshead Revisited”), James Marsh (“Man on Wire”) and Anand Tucker (“And When Did You Last See You Father”) are each directing one part of the trilogy, with prolific scripter Tony Grisoni (see related story) writing all three. Thesps including Sean Bean, David Morrisey, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan have all boarded the project, which is shooting on location in Yorkshire. And while a number of U.K. film shingles have inked deals in recent months with U.S. studios — witness Ruby Films’ pact with Miramax and Marv Films’ with Sony — Eaton and Thomas are relishing their independence.

“We used to have an overhead deal with MGM and Polygram before it, but I actually think we’ve become a better company since we went out on our own,” Eaton says. “The solution is to find different revenue streams. I’d prefer if we could get by without a studio deal. We have good enough relationships in the U.S. thanks to our relationships with Endeavour and John Lesher, who used to be our agent.”

Eaton’s approach has generated some controversy, however. The thesps working on “Red Riding” all have signed feature film contracts with Revolution, as opposed to TV contracts which, on paper at least, guarantee a more steady income from residuals. This has provoked the ire of some Blighty tenpercenteries. But while Eaton understands their concerns, he is keen to see that all the talent involved get their fair share of the revenues.

“TV is the bread and butter for agents, and we understand where they’re coming from, but we’ve asked them to take us in good faith,” he says. “It’s not in our interest to cheat anyone out of their money. People have to realize that revenue streams are going to change. Once we’ve recouped the equity, there should hopefully be a bigger pot which we can then share with the actors.”

As for Thomas, who once famously tapped a bank to help finance “The Last Emperor” by cold calling them after finding their number in the Yellow Pages, a challenging film environment is nothing new.

“I don’t ever remember a moment when making films was easy,” he says. “Ultimately, a good project guides itself to the money.

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