2009 Producer on the move - UK
by Naman Ramachandran
Cineuropa: How did you raise the finance to produce Rupert Wyatt's The Escapist [+see also:
Adrian Sturges: Having spent a long time trying to get the cast and money together for a short-film called Fourth Wall we initially talked about trying to make The Escapist for $1m and had initially very positive responses to the idea from American financiers. We came close to making it with a company in New York who would finance if we made it for that sort of price and shot it on HD. That didn’t come to fruition and later we got close with several other American companies, by which time the budget had gone up with the development of the screenplay which became more complicated in terms of action and scale with later passes. The problem of a first time director being an unknown quantity was again the thing that delayed us – the American financiers wanted to mitigate this risk by casting more prominent names, but The Escapist is a European film and it didn’t make sense to have a random American star in a lead part just to ensure a certain level of finance. So we were back to the drawing board. Fortunately I had made a connection with an Irish Producer – Alan Moloney - through my lawyer who had worked with him on Intermission. We had gone to Dublin to scout a potential prison location, having come up with nothing in the UK that really felt cinematic enough – we wanted to find a prison that was both intimidating and beautiful. We knew of Kilmainham Jail in Dublin, where Jim Sheridan’s In The Name Of The Father was filmed, and after visiting it knew we wanted to use it. So I entered into a co-production with Alan and we both went to our respective national funding bodies to raise money – me to Sally Caplan at the UK Film Council Premiere Fund and Alan to Simon Perry at the Irish Film Board. Both came through with key investments, which allowed us to move ahead. So eventually the film was structured as an official UK/Irish co-production with roughly half the money coming from each country. The final budget for the film was £2m, a long way from the $1m original aim, but all that money is on the screen and we got a tremendous amount of juice out of a still quite small orange. The film went on to premiere at Sundance and sell around the world – Alan and I won the Best Production Achievement award at the British Independent Film Awards this year, which was very gratifying!
In your opinion, what is the state of the European film industry today?
I think it’s an exciting time – there’s a lot of extremely talented people coming through as well as established talents producing excellent work. We are having to rework all of our models for financing all the time with the world changing so much around us, but in a way that’s exciting too – it allows things to get shaken up and new ways of working to emerge.
What are the challenges the European industry is facing in these trying times?
I think the biggest challenges are in distribution – we have too much supply really and a saturated market place, with the independents fighting to survive in the face of the might of the studio releases. In Britain I think we need to continue the work of educating the audience – starting at school – and getting them interested in local films from an early age.
What are your expectations and fears about the current scenario?
My expectations are that the independent world will continue to change radically, we will inevitably be affected by the downturn in advertising and broadcasters becoming much more cautious about what they invest in – I particularly fear our television screens being swamped by cheap and nasty reality TV – but I’m always excited to see what an appetite people have for film, in whatever form it comes. We seem to be at a fairly crucial midpoint where the big films have got ever more expensive and gargantuan and the smaller films have had to get cheaper but there are so many more of them. There will have to be some corrections at some point but in the meantime I’m watching it all with great interest!
And lastly, how do you think the European Producer On The Move is going to help you and your projects?
I’m really looking forward to meeting the other producers and hearing their war stories and their hopes for the future. I have quite a diverse slate of projects and I’m sure the connections I’ll make will be really useful; also I’m expecting there to be a few surprises and new ideas that come up along the way…
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