ON THE BLOG: Co-production is the hot topic at EIFF

With Edinburgh International Film Festival coming to an end after another whirlwind year, we take stock of the industry events we attended and hosted, where co-production was the word on everyone’s lips.

At our own event on Monday 24 June, featuring a discussion between Screen Scotland’s Executive Director Isabel Davis and Dirty God producer Marleen Slot, our MEDIA officer in Scotland - Alberto Valverde - noted that “co-production is the backbone of Creative Europe.” One of our primary objectives here at Creative Europe Desk UK is to foster creative, cross-border collaborations.

Ours, and two other panels at the festival, aimed to dissect the how and the why of the co-production model. What are the advantages and challenges? What does the financing plan look like? How do you make decisions with so many parties involved?

The clear advantage from the outset was perceived to be the increased chance of funding your project. Ian Davies, Managing Director of production and finance outfit Boudica Films, stated that “the chances of getting funded increase enormously if you can bring co-finance.”

Creative Europe directly funds the development of fiction, creative documentary and animation projects intended for cinema, TV and digital platforms. These projects need to be aimed at the international market, and while they are not explicitly co-production funds, your chances of being successful increases if you are planning to finance your project in this way – in fact 97% of the projects supported under the most recent round of our Single Project scheme were submitted as international co-productions, an increase of 19% from the last round.

A report published by the European Audiovisual Observatory also found that beyond the obvious fiscal benefit, co-productions also saw higher rates of circulation.

"A total of 39.5% of the films produced in Europe between 2010 and 2015 received a theatrical release in a country other than the main country of production. For majority co-productions, this figure rises to 62.9%. On average, European co-productions circulate almost twice as much as purely national productions (32.1%).”

However, in Isabel and Marleen’s discussion it became clear that there several advantages beyond financing. In relation to Marleen’s most recent film Dirty God, a Dutch-directed drama set in London, Isabel noted that “there’s no substitute for that local ear. When I first read the script I was struck by its freshness and vernacular.” The screenplay is co-written by Brit Susie Farrell, a relationship Marleen said was formed “through a project that never got made.”

It was the on-boarding of creative talent which granted access to different pots of funding, rather than vice versa. Indeed, Marleen spoke extensively about how she set-up her producing partnership with Mike Elliot of Emu Films, after having expressed a fondness for Catch Me Daddy. He came on the project after reading the script and it was from there that the project received BFI production finance, which Marleen admitted she “didn’t even know was possible with a Dutch director and producer.”

This was reiterated on another panel hosted by Ian Davies, wherein producer Eddie Dick spoke about following the “creative talent rather than the finance” because those stronger, genuine relationships will ultimately bolster and benefit the production.

One of the ways Creative Europe encourages this is through its support for training providers such as EAVE and ACE Producers, allowing them to offer courses which help you expand your networks, meet potential co-production partners and develop your projects with the international market in mind.

Marleen, who is an alumna of both schemes, advised that “if you want to be a good producer, you have to be international. ACE and EAVE helped me to build a network, which is the most important thing you need.” Marleen also mentioned ACE’s annual reunions - which is to be held in Scotland this year - as a ripe opportunity to refresh those networks and keeping meeting new people.

The logistics of financing formed a large part of the conversation on Tuesday’s event ‘Why Co-Produce’ with Sam Taylor - who is currently producing Agnieszka Holland’s Charlatan - speaking about the mental agility required to fit all of the pieces of the puzzle together. “You have to consider the complexity of the structure and what you’re actually getting with that money and whether it’s worthwhile”.

Marleen admitted that the most “difficult thing about financing is the spending obligation…[For Dirty God] we shot all the exteriors in London and all the interiors in Amsterdam” in order to fulfil spending requirements.

Ultimately this requires a lot of juggling and travel, and Marleen advised that you “need a director who is adaptable”, noting that the intensity of a co-production is particularly high.

Marleen also shared Dirty God’s finance plan, which was warmly received in a room predominantly filled with filmmakers used to budgets and discussions of money being shrouded in privacy. Dirty God received funding from The Netherlands (Viking Film), the UK (Emu Films), Ireland (Savage Production) and Belgium (A Private View) through a mixture of tax credits, distribution advances, Eurimages, national film boards and funds and broadcasters license fees.

However Marleen also felt that having an English-language co-production helped the film land well upon release. It’s the first film from the Netherlands to plays in competition at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as opening Rotterdam’s International Film Festival. The one-two punch of this combination elevated the press and buzz around the film, and ultimately helped it perform well in both national cinemas and around Europe.

Co-productions, although time-consuming and requiring of tenacity, provide a different kind of access and opportunity. This encompasses funding, incentives, creative talent, knowledge, locations and cinemas. Although Marleen branded the experience as “tough”, the evidence points towards greater pay-off in the long term.