Gill laments strong pound

LONDON — The opening day of Film London’s inaugural Production Finance Market, introduced to forge closer links between producers and private financiers, proved to be one of mixed messages.

Proceedings at the event, held on the sidelines of the London Film Festival, kicked off with an entertaining keynote from Mark Gill, topper at new indie finance, production and sales company the Film Department, on raising private coin in the indie film sector.

While the freewheeling speech touched on his own experiences at Warner Independent and Miramax Films, as well as extolling the creative talent in the U.K. film industry, Gill’s underlying message was the debilitating effect that the high exchange rate of the pound and reluctance of U.K. private financiers to invest in Blighty’s film biz.

The incentives offered by the U.K’s tax credits were virtually being offset, if not overwhelmed completely, by the cost for American companies to film here, according to Gill.

“The quality of the creative community is as good as it’s ever been and the quality of the financing community is as bad as it’s ever been. My experience of trying to raise money in the U.K. was abject failure,” Gill told Variety. “I did not raise one dime out of the U.K. I couldn’t figure out how to crack it. There may be people here who have different relationships but what I was told was there is much more money in the U.S. or in Asia and the Middle East that is interested in this sort of investment.”

Gill, who noted that the Film Department is looking to produce up to a half dozen features a year, would look to the U.K. for scripts and material, but hoped that the country’s talent could be lured to the U.S., where some 30 states now offer significant tax breaks and subsidies.

Elsewhere, the theme of the day lay in the need for U.K producers to think globally and seek out alternative revenue streams.

A financing panel, including Aramid Capital Partners topper Simon Fawcett, the Salter Group’s Patrick Russo and Endgame’s Doug Hansen, highlighted the challenges posed by the lack of private coin in the U.K. “It’s extremely difficult to finance a U.K. film without the support of a U.K. broadcaster,” Fawcett said. “U.K producers need to think internationally and move to where the soft money is, which right now is in the U.S.”

The need for producers to expand their horizons was a recurring motif in the final panel of the day, looking at creating a sustainable U.K. production business.

Kudos Films’ Paul Webster, Material’s Robert Jones (whose company is a joint venture between U.K. distrib Entertainment and New Line), Warp’s Mark Herbert, B3 Media’s Marc Boothe and Revolution Film’s Andrew Eaton all mused on the shifting nature of the biz and the need to diversify their activities.

“The means of taking material and product to market is changing,” said Eaton, whose partner at Revolution is Michael Winterbottom. “It would be a mistake to just call us a film company. We’ll all be content producers.”

Revolution Films has added a TV arm to their core business.

However, Herbert revealed that Warp had made more money selling two short films than they had co-producing Brit helmer Shane Meadows’ “This Is England” and “Dead Man’s Shoes.”

Boothe cited the success of break-out U.S. multi-hyphenate Tyler Perry as an example of building grassroots awareness and revenue streams. Boothe’s B3 Media, which has expanded heavily into new media and developing up and coming talent, is in talks with BET and HBO in the U.S. and has a first look deal with hybrid U.K. pubcaster Channel 4.

Organizers at the Production Finance Market, which has attracted execs from Focus Features, the Weinstein Co., Working Title, Paramount, Pathe and StudioCanal, as well as financiers from hedge funds, private equity groups, tax funds and banks, expect some 250 attendees and more than 400 hours of meetings during the two-day event.

Individual projects being pitched during the mart include Dominic Savage’s $13 million “Mood Indigo,” Ed Blum’s $10 million “The Laughter Clinic” and Nigel Cole’s $6 million “Oxbam Social Club Outing.”

Left Bank Films’ Andy HarriesRecorded Picture Company’s Peter WatsonIndependent Film Company’s Luc Roeg and Kudos’ Paul Webster are all shopping slates at the event.

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