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Producers cut down overhead

Plenty of cheap office space in the ethernet

Andy Paterson named his company Archer Street Prods. after its address in London’s Soho district. But the shingle isn’t there any longer, because Paterson has gone virtual.

In a previous technological era, a producer needed an office, a fax machine and an assistant. But with the advent of mobile email and the Internet, some experienced producers are managing to operate with no fixed abode and very little baggage.

It’s a move impelled partly by financial necessity and partly by personal choice. It reflects the difficulty all U.K. producers face in retaining any ownership of the projects they create and thus securing revenue streams to build a corporate infrastructure.

But it also allows them greater flexibility to pursue the projects they wish, without having to ramp up a certain volume of production simply to cover overhead.

In the U.K., these lone producers include veterans such as Paterson, who just finished producing “Burning Man” in Australia for director Jonathan Teplitzky; Kevin Loader, who’s following his success with “In the Loop” by producing Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights”; and Damian Jones, who’s gearing up the Margaret Thatcher biopic “The Iron Lady.”

“After I finished ‘Incendiary’ a couple of years ago, I asked myself why I was spending huge amounts of very hard-earned money supporting a space in town,” Paterson says. “Instead of spending two hours a day commuting back and forth to Soho, I’d rather focus just on getting the work done. The technology means you can do that from anywhere, and makes it hard to justify employing an assistant when you’re in development.”

The fact he has just made a film in Australia exemplifies the flexibility of the approach. “I was working last thing at night and first thing in the morning. I do have an office and an assistant at the moment, but they are in Sydney.”

Upcoming projects from Archer Street include the long-gestating “Railway Man,” an adaptation of Danny Wallace’s comic documentary “How to Start Your Own Country” and “Spirit Banner” by Paterson’s screenwriter wife, Olivia Hetreed.

“I haven’t had my own office for four years,” says Jones, producer of “The History Boys,” “Adulthood” and “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.” “It’s just me and my iPhone. I do 90% of my work on email, and when I partner with someone like Pathe or Working Title, I use their brains and infrastructure. It was a conscious decision that I didn’t need the overhead and I couldn’t afford the overhead.”

The only time flying solo gets really rough, he says, is after a film has been delivered, the post-production office has shut down and there’s still lots of paperwork to deal with.

Pathe and Film4 are backing “Iron Lady,” a $15 million project directed by Phyllida Lloyd from an Abi Morgan script. Meryl Streep is in the frame to play Thatcher, with Jim Broadbent as her husband.

Jones has half a dozen other projects in various stages of development, including Noel Clarke’s Olympics drama “Fast Girls,” Amma Asante’s black period romance “Belle and Bette” and Daisy Donovan’s cheerleading comedy “The Ascension Eagles.”

Ex-BBC veteran Loader worked with Jones on “The History Boys” and “Straightheads,” and has since produced “Brideshead Revisited,” “Nowhere Boy” and “Wuthering Heights” for Ecosse Films, as well as Armando Iannucci’s hit political satire “In the Loop.”

Loader’s own company, Free Range Films, is a partnership with director Roger Michell, with whom he’s developing the historical drama “Hyde Park on the Hudson” about Franklin Roosevelt.

“I squat in a collective office known as Duck Lane in Soho,” he says. “I share space with a post-production supervisor. The new technology makes it possible to be a virtual operator, but because it’s such a lonely thing being an independent producer, it’s good to be around other people.”

The only way to sustain a substantial corporate infrastructure is to diversify into television, argues Loader, as companies such as Ecosse and Ruby have done. The alternative is to travel as lightly as possible.

“For me, business is ticking over, but Christ, it’s precarious,” he says. “Until we started pre-production on ‘Wuthering Heights’ on Aug. 8, I hadn’t been paid this year. And it’s hard to get anything back from films further down the line, which is why we have to do something about the business model.”

Loader and Paterson are both involved in the campaign by U.K. producers org PACT to change in the way British filmmaking is subsidized. PACT is proposing that public coin, whether from BBC, Channel 4 or whatever body replaces the U.K. Film Council, should be used to give producers an equity stake in their own films. Such revenue streams, they argue, might finally enable them to build companies with real assets, rather than just survive with virtual ones.

GLOBAL INDEPENDENTS 2010
Blueprint for change | Professional prospective |Fesival launch pad | Indie distrib reports | Avant garde influences the mainstream | Euro production houses turn to TV | Producers cut down overhead | One-stop shops boost Brit biz | Brands eye film funding cautiously | High rollers show serious pic game

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