It used to be that UK producers could hope for 40% or more of the budget to come out of the States. These days US advances rarely go beyond the half-million dollar mark, says UK trade lobbyist BSAC.
And the value of what the rest-of-the-world is worth has halved, according to some, compared with what it was four years ago. No wonder lenders are increasingly just placing money on safe bets.
BSAC says that the number of British indie films produced each year has dropped from 139 seven years ago to 88 in 2009. Over the past two years, the credit crunch, combined with the severe contraction in the international pre-sales market, declining DVD revenue and flat TV licence fees, have choked off production.
Chris Curling of Zephyr Films, historically one of Britain’s most prolific producers (The Last Station), tells me he’s had to mothball one project post-Cannes because the numbers just didn’t add up.
Curling says: “The industry seems to have changed irrevocably and I’m not sure it’s coming back. I used to think this was just a temporary blip. It’s much harder to put projects together than it was four years’ ago.”
Simon Crowe, CEO of sales agent SC Films International, still thinks there’s a market for the right project at the right price. Producers have to be much more aware about knitting together soft money. He’s steering clear of period films and straight drama in favour of action thrillers though.
On the other hand, the indie film market has reacted by making films cheaper. Movies that used to be made for $20 million are now being shot for $10 million.
Crowe says: “We’ve seen a hardening everywhere. There are still opportunities but they’ve got to be the right project. It used to be you could wing it with, say, just a good cast. Today all the elements in the package have to be in place: cast, script, budget. And nobody’s taking a risk on untried talent any more. Distributors need reassurance that a sales agent who knows what it’s doing is going to deliver the film as promised.”