Oscar Winner Says High-Profile Indie Producers Still Living 'Hand to Mouth'

David Parfitt BAFTA 2010 - P 2012
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David Parfitt BAFTA 2010 - P 2012

A U.K. panel, including "Shakespeare in Love" producer David Parfitt, says some of the biggest names in the industry continue to struggle to fund their work.

Oscar-winning producer David Parfitt told a gathering of fellow producers it was a "hand to mouth" existence producing movies and TV from the U.K.

The producer, whose resume boasts Shakespeare in Love, My Week With Marilyn and Parade's End for the BBC, also said there has been no point in his 20-year career where he had been paid a "f--- off fee" for his work.

Parfitt's fellow panelists all agreed that producing movies often meant spending around seven years or more developing and packaging a project for the big screen.

Producer Stephen Woolley, whose Great Expectations directed by Mike Newell closes this year's BFI London Film Festival, said: "Most financiers, when they look at the budget, they look at the producer's fee and they think, that's where we'll get our money back from. Sometimes I'm not even in the taxi and they're talking about cutting the fee to me."

Primetime Emmy nominee Andrea Calderwood (Generation Kill), who recently sourced 75 percent of the $8 million budgeted Half Of A Yellow Sun starring Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor from a Nigerian venture capital fund described how hard the money was to come by.

"The Nigerian fund usually places investment into oil and gas infrastructure projects so the $4 million we got was a drop in the ocean compared to some of the projects they fund," said Calderwood. "The woman who got us the fund investment said it was the hardest money she had ever raised from the investors because they were asked to invest in something not yet made and with no concrete future success built in."

Peter Watson, the Recorded Picture Company chief executive who runs Jeremy Thomas's production company and also is a co-founder and partner in sales banner Hanway Films, said he was in a slightly more fortunate position because he made movies and enjoyed revenues from a library of titles.

"I honestly don't think there is any production company in the U.K. That doesn't have a hand to mouth existence," he said. "The business of producing films simply isn't a business."

With the panel having more than 100 years of experience in the movie industry, attendees at the Film London PFM were treated to tales of finance fallout, the importance of packaging cast and director and how to take knock backs from powerful financial gatekeepers.

Woolley detailed the story of taking the script for what would become The Crying Game on a round of the studios.

"I actually had that script thrown at my head," Woolley said, noting US studio executives thought a film featuring a terrorist lead character involved in a mixed-race romance would never go over with US audiences. "And the girl's a man, come on."

The film went on to win an Oscar for director Neil Jordan.

Woolley noted that the studios are expert at saying no in such a polite way that "sometimes your back in your hotel room in L.A. before you realize they have."

And Parfitt said dealing with Hollywood and other gatekeepers is "as hard as ever," but he suggested the one tenant for producers was "to keep persevering and never give up."

The panel, hosted by PFM project manager Angus Finney, was charged with analyzing the challenges producers face making product aimed at the international market. Running since 2007, the PFM aims to connect producers and financiers to encourage fresh film financing relationships by facilitating 800 face-to-face meetings and a further 300 financier-to-financier meetings over the two days.