U.K.'s next top production model

Diversity across platforms, financing key to survival

Diversify or die is the message facing U.K. movie producers looking to build a career in film here and abroad.

That stark reality came through loud and clear as the inaugural Film London Production Finance Market opened Monday morning in the British capital.

A heavyweight panel of U.K. producers painted a future that employs content provision across all platforms as the way forward for industry growth.

"We need to diversify to support the folly of film production," said Robert Jones, an indie producer who runs Material Entertainment, a production label jointly owned by New Line Cinema and Entertainment Film Distributors. "We (as producers) have to look at alliances and structures for the business that can be developed to bring money in alongside the movies we make."

Paul Webster, the former FilmFour chief who now runs Kudos Film and Television and recently produced David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises," said he told his employers to expect to "break even at best for the first three years" after moving into film.

"Finding a sustainable business model for moviemaking is better than trying to find a hit," Webster said. "Our business model (at Kudos) was to make fees and make films and build on that success," he said.

New media ex-pert Marc Boothe, founder of multimedia player B3 Media, recently struck a development deal with U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 and is looking to develop a talent pool among black filmmakers.

"What is more interesting is looking at the issue of screen convergence — from the cinema screen … to the television screen, to handheld devices," Boothe said. "You simply can't ignore the numbers (of users) coming from Facebook and MySpace, and it's that bit I find interesting."

For his part, Andrew Eaton, producing partner of filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, has operated successfully by setting up projects in all sorts of ways, be it via presales and bankrolling equity himself or co-financing with a partner before selling the finished movie."Control of rights is an important element for any producer," Eaton said.

Warp X principal Mark Herbert, the only panelist from outside London, said his low-budget filmmaking unit has learned a lot from the music biz.

"Two of our founders know how to make margins on any output, no matter what the cost," Herbert said. "We made more money out of two short films … than we did from the big films such as 'This Is England.' "

The producer-led panel followed the morning's finance panel moderated by legal eagle Olswang partner Lisbeth Savill.

Savill's financing heavyweights told attendees they must adapt to a new world where financiers are more and more demanding when it comes to information required to make the grade.

New York-based fund Cedar Lane founder and managing director Sam Adams said it is always worth asking what it is financiers are seeking. "What are the risks, rewards and what is the road map to getting our money back?" Adams said most financiers will be asking.

Heather Mansfield, whose Mansfield Associates advises corporate banks on risk assessment for movie companies and producers, said too often producers simply approach an institution with nothing more than a script.

"Producers simply don't understand the sales and distribution part of the business," Mansfield said.

Endgame Entertainment president and CEO Doug Hansen said the challenge facing producers is to try and get away from just making movies for fees. "The challenge is making a film for the right amount of money and to make the movie work internationally. It's still a dollar presale business."

Other members of the panel included Salter Group principal Patrick Russo and Simon Fawcett, CEO of hedge fund Aramid.

Russo told the audience that financiers "need to know that there is an underlying plan and that the strategy is consistent with that plan."

"Indie filmmakers often get into trouble if they can't articulate a plan and a strategy," he said.
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