U.K. shingle focuses on flexibility

Future Films sheds post, eyes financing, production

Having experienced the newfound confidence of the independent film market, the willingness to make deals that break borders and the flexible thinking needed to overcome setbacks, U.K.-based Future Films is ready to target its ambitions.

While the company is ramping up efforts to become a player on both sides of the Atlantic, it has recently shed its post-production business to concentrate on financing, production and distribution services.

In Cannes, Future (which also has an office in L.A.) struck a four-picture production deal with U.S. producers Howard Kaplan and John Baldecchi’s shingle Fusion Films. Projects on the slate include Stephen Sommers’ $12 million-$15 million “Odd Thomas,” Randall Wallace’s $50 million “Mercenary,” toplining Channing Tatum; and Paul McGuigan’s $12 million-$15 million espionage thriller “The Diplomat,” starring Christian Slater and Hayden Christiansen.

The $35 million Julianne Moore starrer “Nicholas North,” helmed by Antti Jokinen, is also in the deal.

For Future Films’ CEO Stephen Margolis, Kaplan and Baldecchi rep a company based in Hollywood, with access to better projects and talent than other U.K. independent production houses. “It’s important for us to be able to work with someone out of L.A. and create those relationships,” Margolis adds.

Margolis says two of those projects — “Nicholas North” and “The Diplomat” — as suitable to be shot in Europe, “where (Future) can provide direct production services. (The projects were a good way) to be able to establish ourselves as a provider of finance to quality productions at a decent level.”

Future also is working on low-budget Brit train thriller “Last Passenger,” toplining Dougray Scott, produced by NDF Intl. and being shopped at markets by Pathe Intl.

Additionally, the outfit has been focused on getting more involved in the TV space. It has already launched “Annabel’s Kitchen,” a kids cooking program, for ITV, and has three major drama series at different stages of production and development, including a miniseries based on Jeffrey Archer’s short stories.

In June, Future decided to withdraw from the post-production sector, entirely and announced it was looking for a buyer for its Pepper Post entity.

The facility, which controlled a large portion of post work on high-end U.K. TV drama and has worked on films including “Sherlock Holmes,” “The Green Zone” and “Clash of the Titans,” is in liquidation and has ceased trading.

Margolis says the decision was a disappointing one, especially after having invested more than £3 million ($4.8 million) into the biz since it merged its sound post house Future Post into Pepper in 2007.

Pepper went into receivership in the summer of 2010; Future invested another $1.6 million to save it.But by then, customers were understandably nervous and many scheduled sales had disappeared.

Other factors gave Margolis pause, including the notoriously low margins in post-production and brutal bidding wars for work and talent.

“What’s happening in the post space right now is, frankly, complete madness,” he says. “I fought for this business for three or four years. The staff continued to support me. We continued to win awards, we controlled 30%-40% of the high-end TV drama market, we had the only Dolby Premier studio in England, and despite all of these things, I just couldn’t get over the hump. I just did not have pockets as deep as some of our competitors.”

But Margolis says the rest of the Future Films biz has had an incredibly profitable first six months of the year, having made about $2.3 million on an unaudited basis.

And after a buoyant Cannes for all bizzers, the economic climate is promising.

“I’m sure we’ll have more investors coming back into this space,” Margolis says. “There’s no doubt that there is more liquidity around. Interest rates remain low, so they’re getting little or no money on deposit (and don’t mind taking) a little more risk” for a better return.”I’m a lawyer with a banking background so Future Films has never been about the creative processes per say but about how we can be financiers and deal makers within the business of film rather than the film business.

“That pervades all that we do so we look at things really from a business perspective and at how we can create a solid business for us within the U.K., which is quite a fragmented market.”