London's LipSync takes equity stake in its projects

London-based post-production house LipSync — which for the past four years has been boarding independent films as an equity producer — is ramping up its efforts to become one of the major players on the post scene.

Since 2006, LipSync, headed by Peter Hampden and Norman Merry, has invested £9.2 million ($14.3 million) in 42 films, in which the company joins the production as an equity producer and, in exchange, gets work funneled through its post-production business.

It has two services — LipSync Creative, which invests in films, and LipSync Post.

Recent pics boarded at the equity stage include Stephen Frears’ “Lay the Favorite,” Simon Curtis’ “My Week With Marilyn,” Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” Terence Davies’ “The Deep Blue Sea” and an upcoming adaptation of “Great Expectations,” helmed by Mike Newell.

It’s latest investment is Neil Jordan’s vampire thriller “Byzantium” — LipSync will also complete the post work for the pic, which is a co-production between Stephen Woolley’s Number 9 Films and Parallel Films.

“We put cold, hard cash into films at the financial closing stage,” says financial director Merry. “Other people may have different structures, but we physically put money in on day one, and then we get treated as a post house when production is shot and editing is done, and they come and buy services from us. We don’t inflate or adjust prices. Whatever we agree (to) in a post-production deal here is totally separate from what we agree (to) as a cash investment from financial closing.”

For a company that started some 25 years ago making trailers and TV commercials (a part of the biz it is still involved in), its business certainly has come a long way.

Within a market where prices are falling and volume is increasing, the company has seen its revenues by one third in the past 18 months, bringing in approximately $15.6 million over the past year .

“It takes a while to lose the moniker of being the new kid on the block,” says Hampden. “I think we’ve certainly lost it now.”

He says that the decision to invest in films came not just from a desire to generate business for their own company.

“We saw a gap in the market,” Hampden adds. “And we wanted to help producers. Getting the money for any film deal can be difficult, especially getting that last bit of money; that can be the trickiest part.”

Merry and Hampden own the business and, as a result, can react quickly to a producer in need of an equity injection. There are no boards or committees to go through, and the fact that LipSync has reinvested its profits back into the company for the past four years coupled with its access to cash for loan purposes, makes it an appealing door for a producer to knock on.

For instance, “Lay the Favorite,” toplining Bruce Willis, Vince Vaughn and Catherine Zeta-Jones, hit various hurdles in piecing together its $12 million budget. When producer Paul Trijbits at Ruby Films approached LipSync, there was a week to arrange the financing to make sure it didn’t collapse.

Within a day, LipSync, which already had a good relationship with Ruby, put up $450,000 of equity into the pic.

Number 9 Films’ Stephen Woolley, who had already worked with LipSync on pics such as “Made in Dagenham” and “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” approached the company after one of the elements of U.S. money fell out of upcoming adaptation “Great Expectations” during pre-production.

“We got involved with BBC and the British Film Institute and helped get the film over the finish line,” says Merry. “Between us all, we structured the amounts of money invested and the way that money is recouped.”

Woolley came back to LipSync for “Byzantium,” which is shooting in Ireland and stars Gemma Arterton and Jonny Lee Miller. Post is scheduled to start in June; Studio Canal will release the film this year in the U.K. with West End selling world rights.

But it’s not just at the critical last minute moments that LipSync boards its projects. For instance producer Iain Canning brought “Shame” to the company at the early stages.

Hampden adds that investing in pics has, as a result, caused them to forge closer bonds with producers throughout the years, facilitating future business.

And while the two work mainly in indie circles, they still have relationships with the Hollywood majors, making foreign-language trailers and re-versions of features tailored for overseas markets.

The company plans to build up its vfx business — it has worked on pics like “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and Madonna’s “W.E.” — and plans to continue to take advantage of structured finance options, which Merry says are beneficial to producers because the costs are less aggressive.

“We can help maximize, and we’re happy to take a small piece of the bigger pie,” he says.

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