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netribution > features > interview with jenny borgars > page two

Is that help financial or does it mean setting them up with points of contact?
We'll steer people in whichever direction we can, whenever possible. It depends on the producer, some have a clear idea but just need a little bit of cash to get them over a hurdle. What I think is good here is, wherever possible, is that we can encourage or help people go out and find a partner, and with the money and expertise we give that's really useful. Our development fund acts as a leverage for them to attract further finance for a project.

Is the location of your office on the ground floor a coincidence then?
(laughs) I wish it were so feng shui! What we have within this organisation are a lot of open doors. Both the production funds have set out to be progressive and proactive and to get involved with projects early on, in the same way that the development fund works. The distinction to be made is that if a project needs development then the money comes from the development fund, and ultimately so does the say-so. We try to operate together because it would be silly to ignore the great relationships that both Robert and Paul bring and we have to capitalise on them. It's a brilliant thing when we all work together.

Pau in the New Cinema Fundl was talking about the pilot scheme whereby a filmmaker can also try out certain techniques and stocks etc. I suppose that fits into the development area too.
Well that's a great stage where we can work together, if we have a project in development and we need to test one of the elements, provided I can convince Paul, the system can accommodate it. The developed project can then go on to one of the production funds.

Have projects you've given development funding to gone on to either of those funds?
Yes, there are a lot of projects that we are developing very closely in conjunction with the production funds. Either they've identified a project that has come for production finance that isn't deemed ready yet, or we've identified talent that we've found interesting and passed them on.

It's essential and I'd be really worried if we worked completely separately because you need to be able to balance an idea. Something might work creatively but when taken to the Premiere Fund they may tell you that the market isn't there for it. You may have been so wound up in the creative side that you haven't seen the other side of it.

How many projects have you put money into so far?
I think between 40 at the moment. We'll shortly be announcing details of projects we are supporting so that people can see what we are doing but we've been really active in going out there and supporting single projects. As I say, a proportion have been developed particularly for those production funds but we are also working with a number of people who haven't decided where their production fund sources will be. It's very exciting and vibrant down here.

We've also launched an initiative to do slate funding back in February and we've been in the process of taking our proposals in from production companies - very nearly one hundred of them. We are currently getting into some serious negotiations regarding a few of those and we are hoping to announce some of those slates in July.

How has this slate funding worked?
Well, the Film Council has tried to identify some of the main problems afflicting the industry. We found that production funding was being introduced too early, the range of projects developed isn't broad enough in terms of their audiences, the quality of scripts isn't high enough and the management of individual production companies isn't strong enough. We tried, across the whole organisation to address these problems.

Within development, slate funding can make a vital difference in a number fo ways. We are looking to work with around 15 production companies at various stages of experience. To give them the money to develop a slate of projects but also to look at what their business needs to move forward. The aim is to get a broader base of projects. To gives those companies at the higher end enough resources to go out and compete for the top projects and then have the human and business resources to hold on to them, to strike a better position for themselves as the films get made.

For the middle range (this is just a rough three-tier system) established companies that have made a number of films, they need to consolidate, take a long look at their business and maybe step up a gear.

Then we are also talking to newer producers, people who are moving over from some other activity, or producers who haven't made a film but have demonstrated a hunger and who have developed relationships with talent that are worth nurturing. We need to help them establish relationships and let them demonstrate their ambition and their talent to find ideas, we can then help develop their business with them. To help them get their first feature made and to grow up to the next level.

Rather like a State funded housekeeping deal.
To be honest I don't know if I'd use the word housekeeping. What we made very clear when we put out the tenders to production companies is; rather than setting the standard in what we were going to offer and what that was going to cover, we were telling people to take a good look at themselves before coming to us for what they need. Many of the deals that we are setting up are quite unique in how they want to allocate the money and what we both want out of it.

Some of the deals are there to achieve more strategic aims. By that I mean, a company may want to work more closely within a particular genre, or may want to work at a very high level to creatively develop very big budget British films. Among that span of 15 odd companies we are hoping to have those three tiers of experience, as well as some very strategic, ambitious initiatives and joint ventures to set up.

How would you identify companies in the bottom tier? I'm sure there are thousands that would like to be considered.
Well anyone can apply although oddly that's the one area where we've had a limited response. Strangely, by us telling them to think about what they want, many are thinking very hard about what it is they want to do.

That process of identification is the hardest and we've had to take a step back and ask ourselves where we think the interesting ones are going to come from. Is it worth asking documentary filmmakers whether they'd be interested in moving over into another area, or theatre companies even? Where will we, and not just the Film Council but the industry as a whole, get that interesting creative talent? It's also really difficult finding young producers that are showing a keen entrepreneurial sense, that's fundamental. Someone, maybe us, has to dig even deeper to understand how we are going to train producers. Perhaps it means making it harder for them to become producers.

What is a typical estimated final budget likely to be?
There's a project that we've been working on alongside The New Cinema Fund called This is Not a Love Song, that's written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Billie Eltringham. We can't say what the budget is but I can say that, overall we're putting in £200,000 from the New Cinema Fund and the Development Fund. They want to cast it with two main characters, find locations, workshop it and then write the script, at which point they'd deliver it to us. The Film Council has a very small window of opportunity to read the script and decide whether we want to finance it - if it needs work we can always develop it.

Anyway, the whole thing is very contained and it will be shot quite quickly, I think the film is a brilliant idea, even if it doesn't work because at least we can see if the process works or not. It is all about creating new dynamics as to how we are going to get projects developed and get them funded, because I think that's what's going to start sparking people's entrepreneurial and creative skills.

Do the projects that you've funded so far fall into any particular category or budget?
Good question. I've tried to create quite a mix, and in any case there were certain strategic areas that we wanted to cover. Levels of budget are important, especially very low budget because we've all been talking about ways to reduce production costs.

Have you had any high concept sci-fi scripts come to you?
I'll be honest, we havn't and if I had to think about the range of projects we've had in, sci-fi is probably the smallest category.

Do you think that's because people feel they need to be quite serious when they come here?
Maybe and I want to do as much as possible to dispel this rumour. We want to encourage ambition and ideas, at whatever budget level and then do as much as possible to make things happen. It's actually a far more dynamic environment than people think. I also think that trying to raise the budget for a high concept sci-fi out of the UK is so difficult, people wonder what the point is in writing one.

The mentality that we are trying to push is that it is an international industry, you need to make films for an international audience but you are probably also going to have to look for finance internationally. If a young writer came to me with their first script and it was a high concept sci-fi I'd be delighted. It might not be something I could develop, but I'd be excited by that level of bravado and that desire to make a risky movie.

How many people do you get showing that level of passion, blind or not?
There are a lot of people that want to come in and hear about what we are up to and to talk about what they are doing, there are also an untold amount of keen producers out there. There's never a day you can't fill with six meetings but I don't want a situation where we spend a lot of time talking and can't move anything forward.

We spent a lot of time get hold of a lot of projects and we now have to spend some time on housekeeping to decide which ones we can go with and to move those forward. As always, you make decisions very early on in a new company or organisation, but your experience and knowledge grows and affects those decisions. Development is such a weird area because we all know that the majority of projects never go anywhere, in some ways there's a cultural hurdle that needs clearing. Failing within development can be a good thing, and obviously better there than after production but also, there's a huge amount one can learn whilst failing in development so that one can make sure it's not repeated.

What sort of scripts are you crying out for?
High concept sci-fi! (laughs) Contemporary comedies, not romantic comedies because that's what the British seem to think is comedy, fantastic thrillers and horrors and British disaster movies. It's easy to speak in genres but I'm looking for films that define themselves.

What do you get too much of?
Period pieces, romantic comedy, social drama because that is what people see get made.

What is the biggest mistake a filmmaker can make in applying?
Many think that their project is ready before it is, many haven't really thought out whether their film sits with an audience. I'd like to assure people that they should not be afraid to think ambitiously. If I read a script that I hate and which makes me enormously, that will rise to the top of the pile faster than one which is just written professionally. If it provokes a reaction on any level then we have to study that reaction and find out a way to harness it in order to sell it.

I watched the last ten minutes of Se7en the other night and I was immediately hooked and so infuriated when Brad Pitt kills him! I love that because it still provokes the same reaction as the first time.

In David Fincher's original script Pitt saves Paltrow at the last minute but heard later that the studio had decided to change it. I imagine first timers are pretty scared of their script getting hacked to pieces in development?
I don't think we hack in the UK really, ironically because the surrounding machinery, like the studios, isn't there for people to know what to hack. Over there, you feed the machine and everything works towards getting the project out there. So, if you get hacked to bits it's for a very good reason.

I also think that development in this country is viewed as a sort of holistic, organic process, we often find that young writers that don't know the system are very nervous about going into a meeting and having to make decisions on their script. People need to know that those changes need to happen and that they are a good thing.

How many scripts do you read every week?
Not as many as I would like because there is so much extra that needs doing, so there is very little time to read during the week. I often take scripts home over the weekend.

Do make mental notes throughout on what you are and what you aren't looking for?
I probably should but then everybody works differently. From the first page I'm looking to fall into the story and if I encounter things that pull me out then I make mental notes about them, if anything. When I read them for the first time I try to go on gut instinct but I'll bend the corner of a page when I come across little problems.

What was the last absolutely brilliant script you read?
(laughs) Very good question! I read a great one recently but it's in development so I can't talk about it but it's also by someone you wouldn't expect to be writing scripts. Why was it great? The story.

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