For Scot producer Chris Young, “The Inbetweeners” franchise was like winning the lottery. When Channel 4 gave him the original sitcom to produce, he’d made a handful of small Scottish films over the previous 20 years, and was barely surviving.
Now, with a hit TV series that became a cultural sensation under his belt, and a healthy share of profits from the subsequent film — made for $7 million, and grossing almost $90 million worldwide — he’s spending his windfall to fulfill his dream of establishing a Gaelic film and TV studio on the Isle of Skye, the Scottish island where he has lived since 1999.
That’s about as far from the lucrative low-jinks of “The Inbetweeners” as it’s possible to get. But as Young explains, “What happens after sudden success, especially when it’s 25 years late, is that you can finally do what you’ve always wanted.”
With his freshly swollen bank account, his first step was to pitch a drama series to BBC Alba, the ultra-niche service targeted at Scotland’s 60,000 Gaelic speakers. “Bannan” — a Gaelic word that roughly translates as “family ties” — is about a woman who returns to the hometown she left. The first three half-hour episodes of the series were transmitted last September, and reached a record 62% of the Gaelic-speaking audience. Five more are ready for broadcast this April, and a further 10 scripts will shoot this year. Once those 18 episodes are in the can, he will start looking for international sales.
“To go from doing one of the biggest U.K. cinema grossers to a Gaelic drama series, that’s a drastic gear change,” Young acknowledges.
Young admits he was broke at the time “The Inbetweeners” came around. Still, he didn’t accept the initial terms for the series — a low fee and a share of DVD sales. “I wanted money upfront,” he said. “Frankly, I was very foolish. I had no idea of the value of TV comedy on DVD.”
So when “The Inbetweeners” snowballed to success across three seasons, and turned into a bonanza on DVD, Young didn’t hit the jackpot. That spurred him to push for a movie spinoff, where he could share more substantially in the upside. The film, fully financed by Channel 4, grossed $71 million at the U.K. box office in 2012, and sold 3 million DVDs. For every $750,000 earned above $18 million, C4’s stake was reduced, and the producers’ stake increased.
The producer also struck a clever deal under which Channel 4 took the 20% U.K. tax credit on the movie costs, but Young Films and Morris and Beesley’s Bwark Prods. kept the tax credit on any later profit payments to talent. These were spread generously around to the writers, producers (including Young), director, actors and even department heads, and have already run into many millions of dollars, with Young and Bwark earning back an extra 20% tax windfall from every payment.
Young took a back seat on “The Inbetweeners 2,” which grossed $56 million last summer, because he was too busy developing his Gaelic hub on Skye. But he’s now turning his attention back to his film slate, which includes a number of long-cherished Scottish projects.
These include a movie about the Lockerbie bombing, written by Paul Webb (“Selma”) and directed by Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”); an adaptation by Olivia Hetreed (“Girl With a Pearl Earring”) of the classic Scottish novel “The Silver Darlings”; and a script by John Collee (“Happy Feet”) inspired by the documentary “You’ve Been Trumped,” about the efforts of a motley band of Scottish villagers opposed to the plans of a megalomaniacal American businessman to develop a golf resort on their land.
Young is the first to point out the irony that, as a struggling film producer, he ended up making a hugely profitable movie only by turning to television — and that he’s now investing these profits in TV production to provide the foundation for a sustainable film company.
“It’s been good to work on Skye, but ideally I want it to be about more than a single project. I want to create something here to employ more people” he says. “With the extraordinary experience of having quite a lot of money in the bank for Young Films, I’m going for long-running TV drama as an engine that can pay the bills; train a whole new generation of Gaelic-speaking writers, producers, directors and technicians; and allow the film company to stand on its own feet, not just from profits from ‘The Inbetweeners.’ ”