Prescience Film Finance is one of the only U.K. equity funds left standing after the British government shut down tax loopholes a couple of years ago.
In fact, Prescience has significantly expanded its activities while its rivals have shrunk or disappeared completely.
Shingle’s co-founder, Paul Brett, says, “We are film people who have gone into finance, whereas everyone else are finance people who went into film, found it too tough and have gone elsewhere.”
In the year to April 2008, the company invested $92 million into production, raised from private investors, and it expects to double that figure in the current year.
The company has stakes in five films being sold at the American Film Market — “Easy Virtue,” “Dorian Gray” and “From Time to Time” from Ealing Studios; “44 Inch Chest” from IM Global; and “Dolan’s Cadillac” from Film Bridge. It expects to back another 10 projects over the next year.
That’s a big leap from the company’s early years, in the old days of U.K. tax financing. Prescience was launched by biz veterans Brett and Tim Smith in 2004 to take advantage of tax breaks, but the government’s rule changes forced it to pull out of some projects. It ended up backing just four films in its first three years of business, including Terry Gilliam’s “Tideland” and John Maybury’s “The Edge of Love.”
Prescience has now restructured its funds on what appears to be a sounder footing. It operates “active partnerships,” in which investors read scripts, scrutinize contracts and attend markets. Although Prescience cash-flows the entire cost of a production, its net investment is 20% of the budget.
Brett detects no sign yet that the global financial turmoil has diminished investor appetite. In the current year, the company’s base of investors is set to expand to 100 individuals, contributing an average of $1.75 million apiece. According to Brett, “This is not tax dependent — it’s a real way to invest in film that produces a return.”
So far, Prescience has mostly backed British movies, plus a couple each from Canada, New Zealand and Ireland. But Brett and Smith are traveling to the AFM in search of U.S. films. “The purpose of this trip is to look for American projects that would welcome British investment,” Brett says.