Film financing finds Backup plan



By John Hopewell, Elsa Kelassy

Investor fills the gap as banks pull out of risky biz

On the Lido with Alex de la Iglesia's "Balada triste," which plays in competition on Monday, France's Backup Films, a pic consultancy-turned-investor, is stepping up to the plate.

As traditional bank lenders pull out of film financing in many parts of Europe -- think the U.K. and Spain -- Backup is filling the gap.

It's closing a second slate deal with Cineart for co-acquisition of Benelux rights for six films via its distribution fund; pics include Takashi Miike's competition player "13 Assassins."

Traditionally putting up 5%-10% of a film's budget in completion finance, Backup has made a 10%-of-budget minority investment in "Balada," lead produced by Spain's Tornasol and sold on the Lido by France's Films Distribution.

Backup has come on board Andre Techine's "Terminus paradis" (formerly known as "Terminus des ange"), produced by UGC. Sold by Gaul's TF1 and toplining Carole Bouquet and Andre Dussollier, "Paradis" shot in Venice this summer.

In its latest production move, Backup has invested in Olivier Marchal's €18 million ($23 million) "A Gang Story," produced by Gaumont and LGM.

"Marchal is probably France's biggest thriller director," said Joel Thibout, a Backup partner.

According to Cecile Gaget, Gaumont VP of international sales, "Gang" began lensing in late July and will wrap at the end of next month.

Gaget said "Gang," which will be pre-sold at Toronto, is in the vein of "Public Enemy No. 1" and "The French Connection."

Backup also has equity in Nanni Moretti's Le Pacte-produced "Habemus papam."

Backup's rise to prominence is part of a trend in European film financing. Commercial high street banks are focusing their lending on large companies with high margins and low-risk potential. Film is still considered a high-risk enterprise.

That clears the field for dedicated film-financing operations -- Backup is one, France's Cofidis Natixis another -- who finance based on their specialist knowledge and the sector's ever-greater financing needs.

Currently, Backup invests around $12.8 million a year in 15-20 productions, said Thibout. Its distribution activities look set to grow.

The French funder offer gap finance to productions mainly against a first-position corridor on international sales revenues, Thibout added.

With sales agents dropping their minimum guarantees, Backup takes up some of the slack.

"We know the market, know the buyers, and can count on a value-adding relationship with sales agents, including in the assessing process," Thibout said.

Other investments include Tahar Rahim-starrer "Free Men" from Ismael Ferroukhi, who won Venice's Lion of the Future in 2004; Dominik Moll's "The Monk," starring Vincent Cassel and produced by France's Diaphana and Spain's Morena Films; Pierre Salvadori's Pelleas-produced "Beautiful Lies," with Audrey Tautou; and the Haut et Court-produced "The Woman in the Fifth," by Pawel Pawlikowski, with Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas.

It's no coincidence that "Free Men" is sold internationally by Pyramide, "Beautiful Lies" by Wild Bunch, and "Monk" and "Woman" by Memento Intl., some of Europe's strongest sales agents.

Backup does not secure investment against pre-sales. But its investments suggest the pre-sales market is far from dead.

Now in post, "Lies," "Monk" and "Woman" have all pre-sold strongly.

"We believe in an ambitious European film production sector capable of appealing to worldwide audiences," Thibout said.


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