U.K. Movie Fund Tsar Expects 'Good and Bad' Use of Cash Awarded to Productions

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BFI Film Fund director Ben Roberts, who is in charge of Britain's largest public movie production fund that has $28.8 million to spend annually, wants to mainly help independents.

LONDON – U.K. public movie funding tsar Ben Roberts said Wednesday he fully expects "good and bad behavior" from successful funding applicants as the new era of public funding under his watch unfolds.

Roberts said a new approach that funds producers and distributor joint ventures on a project-by-project basis was likely to "inspire good and bad" uses of funds, but emphasized he hopes it would mostly lead to positive cash uses. He also expressed hope that it would mainly encourage more of the smaller independents to reach bigger audiences in the long run.

Roberts vowed though that his team will try and ensure the application process and results become more transparent than ever. "I hope people will be able to go to the BFI web site and see the reasons the project was chosen," he said.

Delivering this year's keynote address at the Film London Production Finance Market (PFM), Roberts told the room of producers, financiers and distributors that he doesn't want to set "any quotas" for the number of projects his cash pool, the U.K.’s largest public film fund with currently £18 million ($28.8 million) annually. That figure is set to rise to £24 million ($38.4million) by 2017.

He also explained the BFI's "locked box" approach whereby development funding that gets paid back when a film gets the green light, will be paid into an account, to which the producer has access, for developing future projects.

Roberts said the so-called "locked box" would be used very much at the producer's discretion "with a few guidelines in place." It is designed to protect against the misuse of funds for non-film spending, such as buying a yacht, he said.

In a personal account of his career in the movie industry, which has included lengthy stints at U.K. independent Metrodome, as a leading buyer with Universal Pictures International and as CEO of sales firm and financier Protagonist Pictures, Roberts noted how the industry has changed.

He recalled the days when it was possible to go to the American Film Market and discover movies to buy for "five-figure sums," which in those days were considered a risk. He cited Donnie Darko as an example. "That just doesn't happen now," he noted.

Roberts said he came to the job as chief BFI movie funding gatekeeper with a desire to ensure that he and his team of decision makers were "enablers."

The BFI, in taking on the defunct U.K. Film Council's financing duties, would get "an industrial perspective on its cultural activities."

PFM is staged in association with the BFI London Film Festival and supported by the BFI, the Mayor of London, MEDIA and U.K. Trade & Investment.

Film London and British Film Commission CEO Adrian Wootton welcomed Roberts to the event, noting how important the market was in linking producers, distributors and financiers before market chief Angus Finney kicked the event off with Roberts.

This year the PFM has invited reps from 70 to 80 production companies and 10 to 12 financiers to present projects with €305 million ($393 million) of production value, up from €245 million ($315 million) in 2011.

Organizers said there are also a number of new territories – including Turkey, Finland and the Czech Republic – attending the PFM this year.