Post-Brexit, U.K. Seeks New Film Partners

Britain’s impending breakup with the European Union will be a challenge for the country’s film folk, but many of their most important relationships are with American partners, and friendships are being formed in other parts of the world.

Recently, a large number of British auteurs have shot movies, based on their own scripts, in the U.S., such as Andrew Haigh with “Lean on Pete” and Lynne Ramsay with “You Were Never Really Here,” both of which received funding from the British Film Institute and Film4, the movie arm of broadcaster Channel 4.

“There is clearly a creative canvas [in America] that British filmmakers are drawn to, and the U.S. is incredibly open to that sort of collaboration,” says Isabel Davis, BFI’s head of international. “They recognize talent working at that level, and want to be a part of it, and are able to bring various types of financing into the picture.”

American specialty distribs are hungry for singular voices, and looking to the U.K. to help supply those auteur films.

“The U.S. independent sector recognizes that the U.K. and other parts of Europe have the ability to produce more authored and distinctive pieces than the studios have been encouraging into being, so they come to Europe to look for something different,” says Sue Bruce-Smith, Film4’s head of commercial and brand strategy.

The traffic also travels in the other direction with U.S. auteurs able to find backing for their projects in the U.K., including John Cameron Mitchell’s U.K.-set “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” which is produced by British-Australian company See-Saw Films and U.S. producer Little Punk, with Film4 support.

Partnerships with American companies are of great importance to producers of British movies of a higher-budget level. Take Alison Owen, whose “Tulip Fever” is being released Stateside by the Weinstein Co. “America is the primary partner when I’m going in to make a movie; that is purely by dint of economics, demographics and the fact that we share the same language,” she says.

Producer Graham Broadbent of Blueprint Pictures has made multiple pics with Fox Searchlight, including Martin McDonagh’s upcoming dark comedy “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Blueprint also has a first-look deal with France-based multi-territory distributor and international sales company Studiocanal, a subsidiary of France’s Canal Plus. “Financial partnerships where you are not reinventing the wheel each time are a much easier way to make a film,” he says.

Broadbent, who is in production on Mike Newell’s “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” is optimistic about the state of British production. “The U.K. is a great place for making films because I think it punches above its weight in terms of talent and stories that are of interest to the international audience,” he says.

“Guernsey,” which stars Lily James, is the product of a British, American and European pact: it is produced with U.S.’ The Mazur/Kaplan Co., and is backed by Studiocanal.

Creative alignment between partners is crucial, as is the case with Wash Westmoreland’s “Colette,” starring Keira Knightley. The project reunites London’s Number 9 Films with New York’s Killer Films, after their “Carol.”

“We share a sensibility and a way of working that really complement one another,” says Number 9’s Elizabeth Karlsen of Killer’s Pam Koffler and Christine Vachon. Karlsen says Number 9 regularly works with the same group of production partners and distributors, who are “very simpatico with our sensibilities,” but the needs of the material must come first. “We are really drawn to [a certain type of] material, and we build from that material up.”

Tim Haslam, partner at London-based sales agent Embankment Films, says partnerships have to be built organically around the material, and the projects can come from anywhere. “We follow stories. We don’t mind where the story comes from. We are focused on script, script, script; and then director and then cast. We want stories that entertain and emotionally engage, but we are completely agnostic about location and nationality.”

Personal chemistry is important in any partnership, and this played a part in the production of Jonathan Teplitzky’s “Churchill,” which is on Embankment’s slate. The film, starring Brian Cox as the British wartime leader, was one of five British films backed last year by Silver Reel Partners. The Swiss firm had previously worked with Teplitzky on “The Railway Man,” which was released in Britain by Lionsgate Intl. U.K. The same distributor also acquired “Churchill,” which was produced by Nick Taussig, Paul Van Carter and Piers Tempest.

“It was a really good group of people,” says Silver Reel CEO Claudia Bluemhuber. “It was the perfect storm in terms of collaboration: everything being very constructive, everybody pulling in the right direction, and some very good experiences with all the partners. Every single partner was really important for getting the movie made.”

Partnerships at home are crucial too, especially with distributors. “You don’t really move without [having a British distributor attached], unless you have a specific reason for holding [the U.K. rights] back,” Owen says. “It is hard to come from a position of confidence and sell [the movie] elsewhere if you haven’t managed to sell it at home.”

Besides the U.S. and Europe, “S.M.A.R.T. Chase,” which stars Orlando Bloom, has blazed a trail in China. The Shanghai-set action movie was forged through an alliance between Britain’s production company 42 and Chinese financier-producer Bliss Media. The pic includes actors and heads of department from both the U.K. and China.

“It was a real mix of talent and it felt like the beginning of a journey that the whole business is on to work in a more and more sophisticated way with China, and have content that will work for both markets,” says Ben Pugh, one of 42’s co-founders. “It is the start of a relationship that will keep going because [China] is such a huge market.”

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