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Isle of Man puts faith in CinemaNX

Co. chairman previously managed fund

Blighty has a major new film company — bankrolled by a tiny island in the midst of the Irish Sea.

After a dozen years of backing movies such as “Miss Potter” and “Mutant Chronicles,” the Isle of Man government has changed course and plunged its entire $106 million film fund into a production venture launched by a quartet of the most experienced execs in the British film industry.

CinemaNX — or NX for short — is chaired by Steve Christian, who previously managed Isle of Man fund. He has recruited producer Marc Samuelson, Gillian Duffield from Allied Irish Bank and the fund’s longtime lawyer Andrew Fingret as his partners.

John Sloss of Cinetic will rep the new company in the U.S., selling domestic rights to its movies and scouting for American projects.

The Isle of Man is taking no stake in the venture. It’s providing the finance in return for a guarantee that NX will continue to bring a substantial volume of production to the island.

The big change is that NX, as a private company, will be much more ruthless than the old Isle of Man Film Commission in its pursuit of truly commercial projects. It will also have more clout to secure them, and the flexibility to produce some pics outside the island.

The Isle of Man previously offered 25% of budgets against North American rights. NX will cover 50-100% of budgets, taking all English-speaking territories and using Duffield’s know-how to provide gap finance and other forms of traditional bank coin.

NX aims to produce around eight to 10 films a year. Samuelson, who became the Isle of Man’s most trusted producer in the course of making six pics there, including “The Libertine” and “Stormbreaker,” will take the lead in sourcing projects. The company has absorbed his London office and slate, though not that of his L.A.-based brother Peter, who remains independent of the new venture.

The launch of NX, with $100 million in the bank and the collective expertise to spend it judiciously, marks a big advance in Christian’s long campaign to put the Isle of Man on the movie map.

“It’s been a battle to persuade the British film industry to take the Isle of Man seriously,” he says. “But this is great news for the Isle of Man, and it should be fantastic news for the British film industry too.”

The island, 33 miles long with 80,000 inhabitants, is a constitutional anomaly. Sitting 30 miles between England and Ireland, it’s not part of the U.K. or the European Union, but has its own ancient parliament, and prospers as a tax haven.

Christian, a Manx accountant and descendant of “Bounty” mutineer Fletcher Christian, dreamed up the plan to turn it into an offshore movie studio back in 1995. Early pics such as “Waking Ned Devine” were so effective in boosting its economy that the government created a $50 million fund in 2002. Stars such as John Malkovich (lap record holder at the island’s go-kart track), Renee Zellweger and Johnny Depp became regular sights in the capital Douglas and around the rural lanes.

Christian grew the pot to its present $106 million — partly by averaging 70%-130% recoupment, and partly because the government paid back to the fund a share of the wider economic benefit that film activity brought to the island.

A financial quirk in the Isle of Man’s relationship with the U.K. also gave its government a tax windfall from film production. But this was ironed out recently, prompting the switch in policy to bankroll NX instead.

NX is launching at a challenging time for British filmmaking, when U.K. tax changes and the weak dollar have slowed indie production to a trickle. But the company is well placed to profit from the new commercial discipline that these tougher conditions are imposing on a sector grown flabby with easy tax coin.

“The whole British film industry has got to look to make different types of movies,” Christian says. “We are confident that the independent film industry is set to return to the basics of producing commercial films in an efficient and focused manner. The days of moviemaking for the sake of a tax break are gone.”

 

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