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netribution > features > interview with nigel smith > page two

After graduating, you went on to further study in Spain.
Most film students who ‘produce’ short films are really more involved with production management - they do the nuts and bolts work, organising equipment, crews, catering and so on. Few are completely aware of the importance of the financial and legal side of the business at this stage.

There’s a huge gulf between making a short and producing a feature. I felt I knew the creative end, but knowing how the market works, the financial and legal aspects - I emerged from film school knowing next to nothing about these crucial aspects of film-making.

I knew I needed to do something about this, and was lucky enough to be accepted onto the European Masters in Audiovisual Management at the EEC MEDIA 2 programme supported Media Business School.

[This huge programme aims to help with producer and writer training, nurturing new talent, and the distribution and exhibition of European films. In 2001 it was replaced by the MEDIA PLUS programme, which has similar aims.]

Was this course worthwhile?
Absolutely. None better! Three months of intensive, high-level input from working professionals from across Europe and the USA. I loved it and was challenged by every minute of it!

After completing the course, I felt I might be a valuable addition to any production company - many of my classmates were offered work in production companies across Europe.

So I came back to Britain and applied for jobs, but without any success. Mercifully, I’d already decided to start my own company.

Did you form Forged Films immediately on leaving Spain?
No, I then spent three months at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Los Angeles under the auspices of a Motion Picture Association training program for promising new producers. There were two of us, the other being a former classmate of mine from the Media Business School Masters - Pau Calpe. Both of us had applied independently of the MBS.

We were given out own office at MGM and a marvellous SVP of Corporate Affairs helped us manage our time there. She arranged for us to question whoever we wanted to in the studio, to access files on productions, visit shoots and so on. We were even allowed to attend MGM’s big Wednesday afternoon production meetings, at which the various Heads of Department discussed current projects in production. That was fast and furious stuff with it’s own peculiar turns of phrase - almost like an episode of "Cheers".

I came back to the UK thinking, "Surely I’m employable now!" But I think people here might have been suspicious of what I might know - I’ve little evidence to support this though. On balance, I think my age probably acted against me (I’m now 41).

Is the British Industry interested in how the Americans make films?
Not for the most part - but they should be, and I think things are changing in that direction. For example, I feel that development and marketing should go hand in hand, as they do in America, where a script probably won’t even be optioned before the distribution and marketing departments have had a look at it.

How did you start out?
When we came back from MGM, Pau went on to become head of ESICMA [a large independent production company in Spain] and I found myself stranded in what was, for me, a wilderness of Arthouse movies and Social Realism: not where I wanted to aim at all. I felt very out of place here, but I was still keen to stay and see what could be done.

So I finally started my own company, forming Forged Films in late 1998. I started looking for a slate of projects to develop, so I advertised for scripts.

I don’t think I’d ever do that again.

Why not?
I read a lot of terrible, terrible scripts. About 300 over six months. Many of them not even properly formatted - and regardless of what anyone says, this is SUCH an important starting-point.

I must have read at least fifty variations on petty gangster/Reservoir Dogs themes, and realised that there are many writers out there who merely attempt to replicate market successes - which inevitably means that they’re years behind the current development game.

I’m more interested in writers who are playful, have something different to say, who are willing to explore ideas and who understand but aren’t slaves to the dictats of genre. My maxim has always been ‘quirky but commercial’.

What were you looking for?
I wasn’t looking for particular types of project so much as writers with talent - and, crucially, a similar outlook and approach to my own. And I did find a couple and I’m lucky enough to be working with them now.

I also have a couple of writing teams - pairs of writers. One team works on "high concept" projects, where one writer is good on storylines and the other better with dialogue.

As I can’t afford to pay a lot of money up-front, the deal I propose to writers involves my working very closely with them, helping them develop their craft as well as their stories - and then promoting us as writer/producer teams. Seems to work, thus far.

You’re also a writer?
I’m somebody who likes to write. I won’t call myself a writer till somebody pays me money to do it. But I think my writing helps me to gain the confidence of the writers I work with now.

What’s your view on Scottish Screen?
Well as I said - it’s a very small industry here in Scotland. I don’t think I’m currently one of their favourites, but I’m not interested in being an outsider.

Edinburgh is one of the major financial centres in Europe - yet the gnomes of Charlotte Square don’t seem keen to invest in a local industry through investment funds, and it’s developing these kind of structural initiatives that I feel SS could be castigated for (so far) failing to achieve. Forget all this cronyism nonsense.

There’s been much in the press about the poor performance of lottery-funded projects.
Yes but too much emphasis is always placed on UK theatrical success (cinema box office revenue). It’s ill-informed, sloppy journalism. Consider if a Scottish newspaper were to have its annual income and circulation figures reported based on sales over a single month, and using the London area alone as a basis. I doubt that would make attractive reading, but this is very similar to what is being done to attempt to discredit Scottish Screen.

What about foreign territory sales? Pay-Per-View? Video and DVD rental and sell-through markets? Cable and terrestrial television? Chances are high that even if a film flops theatrically at home, the money will be made back in the long run internationally and across these ‘ancillary’ markets. It always takes time.

Companies like "Fantastic Factory" in Spain are setting out to prove that you can make films with budgets of around the $2 million mark - and turn profit from video and DVD releases across Europe alone - not dependent on seats sold in theatres.

I don’t think many people are going to rent Ratcatcher.
Probably not. But that’s another argument.


Morna caught up with Nigel after the Film Festival screening of Cry for Bobo.


How was Bobo received at the Film Festival?
I think it went down very well, with two sold-out screenings (together with the other two Tartan Shorts, ‘Manji’ and ‘Tangerine’) in a 200+ seat cinema - Cameo 1.

People laughed, and even cheered, which was a big relief – and I found myself being chased by sales agents at the after-party. So I think we’ve done something right.

One thing is clear - it’s a film that loves audiences.

What are your hopes and plans for Bobo?
I think it’s a really strong film, which should go down well on the international festival circuit. Whether it’s a potential award-winner I’m not sure - as I mentioned, Bobo seems to really thrive with an audience, so if festival juries are present at screenings (which they seldom are) we may stand a chance. But as long as we’re making audiences laugh, I’m happy.

BBC Scotland - who financed the film along with Scottish Screen’s National Lottery Fund - have still to settle on a sales agent for TV, but I’m reasonably confident we’ll make some money back on it internationally. Short films are not profitable, though, let’s face it.

I’d also like to think that my company will be able to advance some feature projects (with David attached to direct) as a result. So far the signs are all good.

What other projects are you developing at the moment?
My company has a slate of ten feature film projects in development, across a broad range of budgets/genres.

There are three in particular which I’d like to see move forward quickly - the scripts are well-developed, I know where the market is for them. Any financiers reading this?

Nigel Smith can be contacted at Forged Films via email:

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