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Film London insert in Screen International

Date posted: 18.05.2015


Published during the Cannes Film Festival, this promotional feature in Screen International covers some of what's happening with Film London today.

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London: global competitor

Enhanced tax credits have given London a global competitiveness but the city needs to be able  to support the rise in demand. Ian Sandwell reports

It's been an extraordinary time," says Adrian Wootton, chief executive of Film London and the British Film Commission, looking back over the past year since Film London celebrated its tenth anniversary.

London has long been established as a one-stop shop for productions of all sizes and a gateway to the rest of the UK's locations, facilities and talent. A key part of the recent boom has been the enhanced tax reliefs, which Wootton says have given London "global competitiveness". But to capitalise on them, he adds that Film London is working "to back that up with the infrastructure and being able to provide production support on the ground so people can move around cities efficiently".

Producer David Parfitt, chairman of Film London, also believes the enhanced tax reliefs have aided the capital's post-production facilities. "The tendency was if you were bringing in a big film, part of your budget was not allowable for tax relief so you'd take that away, leaving visual effects losing a bit of business," explains Parfitt.

"Now, the fact you can come here with that minimal spend of 10%  means productions shot elsewhere are coming here for digital effects. That's balanced things out again."

Generating around $1.5bn (£1bn) of the UK's $2.3bn (£1.5bn) film production spend, London has seen the likes of Spectre, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation and The Man From UNCLE shoot in the city. "With such a thriving creative sector in the UK, the agency does a great job of attracting productions to London and the surrounding area, which is important in keeping the industry vibrant," comments Dan Dark, SVP and managing director, Warner Bros Studios Leavesden.

For director Stephen Frears, it is clear why he keeps coming back to shoot in London. "It's one of the best places to make films, where the talent and facilities allow you to achieve almost anything," says the film-maker. "Right now, I'm making a film [Florence Foster Jenkins] set entirely in New York, so of course I'm shooting it in London."

The upcoming Suffragette also benefited from shooting in London, becoming the first-ever film allowed to shoot inside the Houses of Parliament. "We needed scale, authenticity and control, so we felt it was important to use actual London locations," recalls producer Faye Ward. "Shooting in the Houses of Parliament was a profound moment. This had a deep resonance and meaning for ourselves and Parliament because we were recreating part of its own history."

Maria Walker, COO of Twickenham Studios, says London is desirable for its talent pool and language. "For the Americans, it just makes life easier. They know they can guarantee the quality of work," says Walker. "Twickenham is ideally situated and our dubbing theatres are the best in the country, which is why most US mixers who come over here choose to mix with us."

London's screen industries are converging across film, animation, VFX and games to ensure the city remains capable of delivering anything. "As the capital's production industries agency, Film London has been doing a superb job over the past 10 years transforming the city into a booming global hub for content," notes Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. "We're excited to be expanding its remit to support our vibrant games industry."

Parfitt expands: "Because there has been this boom, I'm seeing the crews responding to that and there are some fantastically talented people out there. Now, you're seeing the new folk come up behind established talent, which is exceptional. We need that flow and if you don't have a thriving industry, it just stops."

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CASE STUDY Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

"Nowhere else in the world can you find the quality of crews, stages and facilities along with the amazing locations that London has to offer," says Don Granger, executive producer of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. The fifth outing of the popular spy franchise was based at Leavesden Studios and shot in and around London for four months from October 2014 to January 2015, including an action sequence in and around the Tower of London. Granger says of Film London: "I lost count of how many times we called them and asked them to pull a miracle from their hat. And, every time, they worked tirelessly to make our dreams come true."

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Market value

Film London's Production Finance Market is set to open its doors for business for a ninth year alongside the more recently established Micro Market. Ian Sandwell reports

The Film London Production Finance Market (PFM) is entering its ninth year having established itself as an effective platform for international producers and financiers to form new and transformative relationships. Taking place in association with the BFI London Film Festival, the PFM remains the only event of its kind in the UK.

"The PFM serves to highlight London as a financial and international sales hub for the independent film industry," explains Angus Finney, PFM project manager. "Given the high level of expertise, international experience and significant companies of scale working out of London, the PFM attracts both international producers but also high-level financiers from Europe and beyond."

Adrian Wootton, chief executive of Film London, believes the strength of the PFM is that it is not just a "talking shop." "There's a whole series of films we can point to that have been made through the PFM," enthuses Wootton. "It shows it's a worthwhile financial structure for independent film production, and is a critical part of the diverse eco-structure we have at Film London."

The event will see more than 800 networking and pitching meetings in the form of 'high-end speed dating' where producers have 30 minutes to impress. Last year's market attracted more than $260m (€235m) of production value and leading equity, hedge fund, tax, banking and public and broadcaster financiers.

Simon Crowe, CEO of SC Films International, says the PFM's most useful aspect is in its efficiency. "In 48 hours, you get to meet up with producers around Europe or the UK, plus financiers, lawyers, accountants, sales agents and distributors at a key time in the film year," he says. "It connects SC Films to the key elements of making film-making happen. Everyone is in work mode and looking to create business opportunities for now, the following year and beyond."

At the PFM, Crowe met with the French producers of Yellowbird (aka Gus) where he agreed to work on the film, which is now finished and sold worldwide with theatrical releases in more than 20 territories to date.

A new initiative announced this year, TRL Espresso, will see Film London partnering with two Italian markets. One producer will be selected at Trieste 2016 and put on the fast-track to Rome International Film Festival's New Cinema Market, before being brought to the PFM in 2016, an opportunity that puts them directly in front international financiers.

This year also sees a new partnership between Film London and Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), which is supported by entertainment accountancy firm Nyman Libson Paul. This will offer up to two UK producers the opportunity to take their features to the No Borders International Co-Production Market. Film London will be selecting suitable, eligible projects from its own talent pool, including this year's PFM and Micro Market applications.

Now in its third year, Micro Market is becoming an increasingly effective strategic enhancement of the PFM, offering a platform for financiers and producers working on projects valued up to $1.1m (€1m). Deborah Sathe, head of talent development and production at Film London, believes the success of the Micro Market is down to its preparation, which sees all projects packaged ahead of the market.

"Micro Market allows a hungry industry to meet the most promising low-budget film-making teams and projects from across the UK," says Sathe. "Industry and talent alike are keen to build relationships and Film London is in prime position to create partnerships that will yield dividends for film markets and audiences."

More than 120 applications were received last year, with 20 projects selected. Sathe expects more applications this year, which will also see a more European focus following successful partnerships with Ireland and France last year. Andrea Scarso of Ingenious attended last year's Micro Market and believes it offers an "unmissable opportunity" for financiers to meet young producers.

"Ingenious is always looking to meet, identify and then work with the 'next big thing' in our sector," says Scarso. "The quality of the talent and the projects they bring to the Micro Market seems to get stronger each year and we look forward to attending the event in 2015."

For Film London chief executive Adrian Wootton, Micro Market highlights the PFM's commitment to independent film production at every level. "In the context of Film London's portfolio, it's important we are seen to be doing something that is really looking at the international marketplace and providing opportunities for film-makers who stand a real chance of getting the finance to get their film made."

"The Micro Market is very complementary to the PFM, as it enables emerging film-makers to approach and connect with the film market rather than present in a vacuum, and provides them with crucial training," says Finney. "It's a pleasure to see some film-makers gravitate across both offers, depending on the nature of the material."

PFM and Micro Market will take place October 12-14, 2015 in association with the BFI London Film Festival. 

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Microwave goes global

After establishing itself with features such as Lilting and Shifty, Microwave is greenlighting two new features in the UK and going international. By Ian Sandwell

Described by producer Ted Hope as "the best low-budget scheme in the world", Microwave – Film London's award-winning training through production feature film scheme – is going from strength to strength.

"We have consolidated that we are here to take bold, risky, creative decisions in a way the commercial sector can't or won't, and that is Microwave's real USP – enabling those big future storytellers to learn their craft and to meet a big audience with their low-budget films," says Deborah Sathe, head of talent development and production, Film London.

At last year's Cannes, the BFI and the BBC Films boarded the latest iteration of the scheme, and a targeted recruitment campaign was launched to ensure "the message wasn't just going out to film-makers that were in the know," says Sathe. The result? Microwave received more than 160 applications, which was whittled down to 12 and then six selections, of which two have been commissioned.

These are Kill Her Witch from writer/director Faye Gilbert and producer Yaw Basoah, and The Visitor from writer/director Sebastian Godwin and producer Hugo Godwin (both former Screen International Stars of Tomorrow who made earlier shorts with Film London).

The two teams can draw on the successful careers already launched by Microwave, such as Lilting's director Hong Khaou and producer Dominic Buchanan, Borrowed Time producer Olivier Kaempfer, who went on to executive produce the Sundance hit Appropriate Behaviour, and Shifty team Eran Creevy, Rory Aitken and Ben Pugh, who have since delivered two multi-million pound features Welcome To The Punch and Autobahn.

With two features in pre-production, the next round of the scheme is now open and Film London are inviting applications.

Having established itself as core to Film London's talent development strategy, Microwave is expanding globally in the form of Microwave International. Working with various international partners, Microwave is bringing its 'Microschool' training boot camp to new territories, as well as establishing co-productions with Malta and India. "Our industry no longer exists within neat borders and I believe proactively partnering with other international territories is essential, and provides a wealth of opportunities to find new talent and audiences," says Sathe.

Film London chief executive Adrian Wootton adds: "Film is a global business and Film London spends all its time dealing with international film-makers who are coming here to make their films. Therefore it would seem very parochial and very strange if all we did in terms of our emerging film-maker programmes was focus on the domestic."

Following a Microschool in Malta, the country's first low-budget film production is now under way and, with further support from Film London, aims to premiere by the end of the year. Elsewhere, Microwave International: Shakespeare India will bring Asian talent from the UK and India together to work on projects inspired by the playwright. Teams will be trained through a British Council-supported Microschool, with Film London and its Indian production partner Cinestaan Film Company greenlighting one project for production. 

"Microwave International: Shakespeare India dovetails with Cinestaan's own ambitions to preserve and celebrate India's rich film heritage and will help forge valuable international links for Indian talent," says Rohit Khattar, founding chairman of Cinestaan Film Company.

"There is a lot to learn about relationship management and cost-effective production from the Indian film industry. I'm also sure the Indian film-makers will gain a lot of insight about reaching a global audience."

"We want to be able to share the learnings that we've built up over quite a number of years with our international friends and partners who have been asking us to work with them," explains Wootton. "It's great for Microwave because it demonstrates that it is really a model that can be used across the world."

Filth producer Ken Marshall, who mentored the Lilting team, worked on the Indonesia iteration of Microschool and describes it as a "fantastic experience" to be part of its growing ambition. "We have been able to work with film-making teams who are hungry to learn how to improve their storytelling techniques and how to bring a project to market," he says.

Looking forward, Sathe notes the distribution landscape is changing and Microwave can now aid film-makers not just in production, but in getting their product into the market. "We're not just launching new storytellers; we're able to apply that same logic to how we get an audience to those films as well."

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London set for Screenings

This year's London Screenings will include BFI-funded films set for release in the coming months and a new focus on VoD. Ian Sandwell reports

Buyers get invited to a lot of places for showcases and screening events, so they have to be selective. It takes a lot more these days to get a buyer on a plane, so you've got to think of new ways to get them over, and London Screenings repeatedly does that," outlines Helena Mackenzie, head of inward investment and business development at Film London.

One of the new highlights of this year's London Screenings will be a presentation of BFI-funded films that are released over the coming months. This will happen alongside the established main screenings strand and the Breakthrough strand, which is dedicated to emerging film-makers seeking sales representation. Narcopolis and The Hoarder are among the five titles of last year's strand to attract sales agents.

Catch Me Daddy, Robot Overlords and X+Y also screened at last year's event. Bankside Films' director Stephen Kelliher notes the event was "instrumental" in X+Y's sales.

"London Screenings provides a focus and exclusivity for British companies and British films which is not attainable at any other film event in the year. We work in a very crowded marketplace and the opportunity to come together to screen and discuss British films cannot be underestimated," he says.

Film London chief executive Adrian Wootton says the event is one of the most important in its portfolio. "It's the one opportunity when all the major acquisition executives from around the world come into the UK and, not distracted by any other country's product, get to sit with British sales companies and meet producers of that product in a very conducive, well-organised and efficient environment," he observes.

Crucial to this continued success is the fact the event is consistently evolving. "We're inviting more buyers who are potentially focusing on VoD," says Mackenzie. "We're still looking at theatrical buyers too, but there are some buyers specifically for VoD, where three or four years ago, there wouldn't have been that demand."

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British benefits awaken

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens and high-end TV are among the productions being drawn to the UK by the BFC

As the gateway to production in the UK, the British Film Commission (BFC) ensures the UK remains the most popular place for production outside North America, for both film and television.

Important incentives include the recent enhancements to the UK's tax reliefs, says BFC chairman Iain Smith. "The UK industry sells itself on quality, experience and reliability and not on being a low-cost option, but our tax reliefs allow us to compete on a more level playing field."

As a result, it means the BFC can continue to support investment in infrastructure, talent and skills throughout the UK. It is this investment that has seen the likes of Warner Bros Studios Leavesden and Pinewood (with the opening of Pinewood Studio Wales) expand their stage space.

"You can really see the effect of the work the BFC is doing by the fact we're not just talking about London and the South East any more; we are talking about ambitious projects being made throughout the UK," says BFC chief executive Adrian Wootton.

Films to have shot recently in the UK include Disney and Lucasfilm's Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens and Disney's Cinderella, while upcoming productions include Warner Bros' Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. "The BFC plays an essential role in ensuring the UK remains at the top of its game, by advising the government to ensure we stay competitive and film-friendly, and by providing guidance and troubleshooting to the film and TV industry," says Simon Emanuel, UPM on Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens and executive producer on Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One.

Smith cites the success of high-end television productions that shot in the UK, such as 24: Live Another Day, which he notes is an area with the "biggest growth potential of all". So what challenges lie ahead for the BFC?

"Other territories are building competitive tax schemes as well, so we can't be complacent," says Smith. "Despite the UK's high-quality offer in terms of tax reliefs, talent and infrastructure, we are still vulnerable to exchange rates; but, right now, our offer is better than ever."

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CASE STUDY Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens shot at UK locations including military base Greenham Common in Berkshire, which served as the rebel base, and the 14-acre ancient wood Puzzlewood in Gloucestershire. "We have the best set construction in the world, in terms of quality," says Simon Emanuel, UPM on The Force Awakens and executive producer on Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One. "I think that when you're investing a huge amount of money into a project like this, you want to have that kind of security - the knowledge it will be done well."

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