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‘Speech’ exemplifies agile indies

Pic came together without a Hollywood major

Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” offers a case study in how the indie film sector can harness opportunity in the global film biz and move quickly, even in times of economic hardship and without the help of a major Hollywood studio.

Those involved with the historical drama, toplining Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, give much of the credit to Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, who run the Australian and U.K. production company See-Saw Films.

See-Saw put together the financing and produced the film by striking deals with key distribution partners, including a multi-territory pact with the Weinstein Co., which releases the film in the U.S. on Nov. 26.

“The King’s Speech” came together with lightning speed; See-Saw closed financing in October 2009, after having the script in hand for a year.

Hooper started principal photography in November 2009 and turned in a final cut of the movie at the end of August this year, in time for the Telluride and Toronto film festivals.

Behind the scenes, there were intense moments along the way. See-Saw faced a crucial decision when Fox Searchlight came knocking at its door earlier in 2009. The specialty division was keenly interested in “King’s Speech,” but there was a catch: Searchlight, owned by a studio with a sprawling international operation, wanted worldwide rights.

But that would have meant cutting out See-Saw’s earliest partners on the project, led by Momentum Pictures in the U.K. Australia’s Transmission also took an early stake in the film. See-Saw has a first-look deal with Momentum, while Transmission is a sister company.

See-Saw decided to stick to its initial plan and go the indie route to retain control.

In summer 2009, the U.K. Film Council put up a chunk of financing. In early September, the Weinstein deal was officially announced, although it had been in the works well before that. In addition to the U.S., TWC picked up rights for Germany, France, Benelux, Latin America and Hong Kong, among other territories. Glen Basner’s FilmNation came aboard to sell off remaining territories and launched the project a year ago at AFM.

Transmission releases “King’s Speech” in Australia on Boxing Day. Momentum will distribute the pic in Blighty while its parent company, Alliance, will distribute pic in Canada.

The production budget for “King’s Speech” came in at $12 million.

Tim Smith and Paul Brett’s Prescience Film Finance also injected cash into the pic.

Momentum topper Xavier Marchand said it wasn’t difficult selling the project because of Hooper, a driving force, and screenwriter David Seidler. Seidler related profoundly to the film’s subject, King George VI, since he had a debilitating stutter as a child and remembered empathizing with the British monarch.

The See-Saw Transmission teams were all on hand Friday night for an AFI gala screening of “King’s Speech” at Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood, along with Harvey Weinstein and his entourage.

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