London-based Ingenious Media, the private equity fund which backed Twentieth Century Fox’s Avatar, has struck a deal with Fox Searchlight to make between 2 to 3 movies in the $10M-15M range. Ingenious could inject up to $14 million annually into the deal, providing 20%-30% equity per movie. Fox Searchlight will guarantee U.S. distribution, the Holy Grail for most UK indie producers. Both companies worked together most recently on 127 Hours, Never Let Me Go, and the forthcoming The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which Fox Searchlight will release in the Fall. Ingenious has backed more than 30 Fox movies but until now under a loose arrangement, financing between 5 and 10 of Fox Filmed Entertainment’s movies each year. Recent investments include Gulliver’s Travels, Unstoppable, The A-Team, and Percy Jackson.
James Clayton, CEO of Ingenious Investments, tells me he first approached Fox Searchlight presidents Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley and production president Claudia Lewis back in November about formalising their relationship. “The UK independent sector has been going through a very tough time I told them I think there’s something more ambitious we can do in the UK. Given our position, we get to see pretty much every UK project in development. And Fox Searchlight wanted to make a greater commitment to the UK business.” The new deal, notes Clayton, takes advantage of “Fox Searchlight’s great taste, superb marketing and the economics of global distribution [which] are much more interesting from a financing perspective than piecemeal independent financing. Hopefully producers will see it that way too. After the demise of the UK Film Council, here’s another option. The independent sector could really do with a boost.”
Ingenious Media was one of the key backers of global blockbuster Avatar along with American private equity firm Dune Entertainment: together they put up 60% of the film’s massive budget for their most profitable film investment to date. The man behind Ingenious, Patrick McKenna who founded it in 1998, is a former boss of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group theatre firm and chairman of The Young Vic Theatre. Ingenious is also close to other Brit producers including Matthew Vaughn, having co-financed X Men: First Class with Fox, and Ruby Films (The Other Boleyn Girl). “Any new and additional portal for financing UK productions is good news,” Ruby Films executive producer Paul Trijbits tells me. “Both Fox Searchlight and Ingenious have been strong supporters of British talent. This partnership looks like a natural extension of what they have been doing on a more ad hoc basis.”
British producers welcome the Fox Searchlight/Ingenious tie-up as it gives them another place to get a movie into production apart from Working Title, Pathe and Studio Canal/Optimum. But Hollywood’s recent history of production deals with Brit filmmakers has not been happy. Fox Searchlight’s joint venture with DNA Films (Never Let Me Go) was not renewed, while Sony’s deal with Matthew Vaughn’s Marv Films and Disney’s Harbour Pictures deal (Calendar Girls) also fizzled out. The usual reason is that, once past the press release, neither side can agree on which films to make.
In America, The Weinstein Co has received most of the PR bonanza for backing Oscar-touted The King’s Speech. But it’s really a British film financing company aptly named Prescience that first recognized the film’s potential. With an office in Beaconsfield, a quaint market town 20 miles outside of London, the Prescience only set up in business 5 years ago — which underscores how far this boutique film financier has come. Prescience has backed 25 films to date with a total production value of $400 million. It’s run by managing director Tim Smith and his co-director Paul Brett who’ve both worked in the movie industry for more than 20 years at British outposts of Hollywood studios. Smith used to work for Fox, while Brett has worked for Miramax, Pathé and Paramount. Both come from a marketing background, which is what they say they’re bringing to the party. Brett tells me: “In Hollywood a film gets greenlit when they have a release date and know how it’s going to be marketed. Here a film is greenlit when the money’s available.”
The Weinstein Company and Prescience were the first financiers in after UK distributor Momentum. Iain Canning, co-producer of The King’s Speech, had decided to keep the project independent, turning down an offer from Fox Searchlight to fully fund the movie. Instead, The Weinstein Company took North American rights plus a clutch of several other territories including France and Germany. Prescience’s job was to fund the production, lending against pre-sales, tax money, and territories which sales agent FilmNation had yet to sell. The UK Film Council and UK post-production company Molinare rounded out the $12 million budget with some equity. But co-producer Gareth Unwin tells me: “Prescience were a key element of our finance plan. Without their commitment, the film would not have happened.”
So, what was it about The King’s Speech that made Prescience want to get on board a period English drama? “It was easily the best script I’ve ever read,” says Brett, who reads between 300 to 400 screenplays a year, about David Seidler’s original screenplay.
Now Prescience has aligned itself with The King’s Speech filmmakers again on another project written by Seidler. Read More »
Britain’s Culture Ministry just handed leadership of the industry back to the British Film Institute. The organisation will take control of and devise strategy for £15 million (£23 million) of lottery funding each year, and administer the £100 million tax incentive. Ex-BBC boss and now BFI boss Greg Dyke was understandably ecstatic. He immediately announced that the BFI hopes to increase lottery funding for film to £18 million in 2011/2012 – an increase of 20%. Dyke told me the BFI will take over movie funding in April next year. “This decision is a great vote of confidence in the BFI. It is a bold move to create a single champion for film in the UK and we welcome it. We want to achieve greater coherence across the whole film sector and to strike a balance between cultural and commercial. We see an opportunity to reduce overhead costs which in turn will allow us to put more of the lottery funds into frontline activities.”
The culture minister underlined that the film tax credit – so crucial for attracting U.S. investment — is here to stay. Overseas filmmakers injected £780 million into the British economy last year. Vaizey said: “Some people think there are two British film industries — one indigenous and the other supporting big American movies. I don’t agree. Hollywood investment promotes both British characters and British storytelling.”
Film London will take over promoting the UK as a moviemaking destination from the British Film Commission. Vaizey called this a “public/private partnership” – in short, the government is asking the private sector to cough up if it wants an office whose job it is to attract Hollywood to Britain. Studios such as Pinewood Shepperton and VFX houses such as Framestore would, after all, have the most to gain.
And Film London and BFI will also work with BAFTA and BBC Worldwide on how to increase the number of UK films being released abroad – the role which Unifrance performs for the French film industry. The organisations will also showcase the work of British filmmakers in Hollywood. The BBC already runs showcases in China and in Latin America.
Vaizey also announced he was setting up a ministerial roundtable that will meet every 6 months to address film industry problems.
Vaizey said he would consider proposals from industry organisations such as the British Screen Advisory Council and the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television to help create “a sustainable film industry”. Vaizey expects to implement these proposals by spring 2012. What was interesting was that he used the word “sustainable”. This phrase has become a shibboleth for British film policy makers. Creating a sustainable British film industry was the original mission statement of the UK Film Council – until it quietly dropped it as unworkable. “The ‘sustainable’ word is back,” Dyke observes. “The Film Council wanted to do it but they just couldn’t live with it.”
Today’s announcement from a Tory government was surprisingly well-received by the traditionally left-of-centre British film industry. It was amusing to see the jockeying for position already within this new world order. It was almost as if the UK Film Council had never existed. How quickly the waters close over one’s head. “There’s an irony in that a year ago the government was forcing the BFI to merge with the Film Council,” Dyke tells me. “Fine, we said, but it’s got to be on the right terms. Today we got those terms.” Read More »
The film agency tells me there’s no conflict of interest over Woodward joining venture capitalist Arts Alliance, despite it awarding an £11.5 million contract to the company in 2005. UK Film Council selected an offshoot of Arts Alliance, the company which Woodward joins in November, to install a UK nationwide … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Fulcrum Media Finance, the London- and Sydney-based film and TV financier, has closed its first wholly British deal. Rachel Weisz stars in Davies’ new screen version of Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea. Shooting on the UK Film Council and Film4 backed project begins in November. Tom Hiddleston will play Weisz’s reprobate RAF pilot lover and Simon Russell Beale her stolid husband. Fulcrum is cash-flowing the UK tax credit, worth 20% of the budget. In the movie business, that’s as risk free as you can get.
The financier hopes to finance 24 UK projects a year. Fulcrum is co-owned by Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, producers of Oscar-tipped The King’s Speech. Fulcrum offers to lend up to 95% of the value of the tax credit. Until now the financier has been financing either wholly Australian films or Australian/UK co-productions such as Oranges and Sunshine and Triangle. Canning tells me that UK producers should welcome working with a financier who’s a filmmaker too. Fulcrum says it will undercut banks such as Barclays and Coutts that offer this kind of finance. “As producers ourselves, we know filmmakers just want financiers to be straightforward with them and just get the job done,” Canning tells me. Read More »
The Daily Telegraph has been leaked a list of 177 taxpayer-funded agencies to be abolished by the new British government. There’s a question mark over the British Council, which promotes UK film culture abroad. And the Film Industry Training Board, chaired by A-Team producer Iain Smith, is set to be privatised. (Smith told me the government’s decision came out of the blue. “We are now trying to establish what it might involve.”) The BBC World Service just announced Read More »
John Woodward says he will leave British film agency in early November now that the Conservative government has ordered the UK Film Council shuttered. Woodward wants to be un-conflicted while negotiations are ongoing with the new government as to what will replace the UKFC. The … Read More »
This is exclusive to Deadline and updates Director Matthew Vaughn Pitches Film Fund That’s “Win/Win For Britain And Hollywood”:
PROPOSAL FOR A UK GOVERNMENT FILM FUND
This paper sets out the rationale for creating a UK Government film fund using
… Read More »
Details Of Matthew Vaughn’s UK-Hollywood Film Plan
Hollywood studios have a long history of shooting blockbusters in England. For instance, Britain’s Pinewood Shepperton has been the location of choice for big Hollywood blockbusters like … Read More »
This morning’s Times of London reports that the film agency has hired political lobbyists Portland, the PR firm founded by a former adviser to Tony Blair. Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has written to John Woodward, CEO of the Film Council, … Read More »
James Lee, former chairman of Scottish film agency Scottish Screen, has written to UK culture secretary Jeremy Hunt proposing all £15 million of lottery funding be injected into a single distribution label. BBC Films and Film4 would be obliged to … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: The venerable British film company is covering 20% of the budget for Wuthering Heights, Andrea Arnold’s new version starting shooting this autumn. Kaya Scodelario from UK teen series Skins is the only cast member attached so far. Co-financiers include … Read More »
Ed Vaizey, the UK arts minister, has written a stern letter to UKFC head John Woodward demanding to know whether the agency has been spending public money on campaigning for a reprieve. Vaizey wants to know whether the UKFC has … Read More »
UPDATE: UK culture minister Jeremy Hunt and arts minister Ed Vaizey have rowed back transferring the £15 million ($19 million) lottery film cash to the British Film Institute. Nor are they going to ask BBC Films and Film4 to split … Read More »
UPDATE: Reactions to the UK government closing down the £60 million-a-year ($94 million) state film agency have formed into two distinct camps.
Many producers I’ve spoken to say the UK Film Council never did anything for them and will not be … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: The UK government is considering handing over the £15 million of lottery film production cash, which the UK Film Council currently handles, to public broadcasters the BBC and Channel 4. Ed Vaizey, the government arts minister, has talked about … Read More »
UPDATE: I’ve been told that the decision to get rid of UK Film Council was Ed Vaizey’s alone, and not, as has been posited, by his boss Jeremy Hunt having a gun pointed at his head. What the government ministers … Read More »
The culture department, which funds British film to the tune of £26 million each year, is preparing for savage cuts. The Department For Culture, Media and Sport faces having its budget slashed by 25% – or even higher – over the … Read More »