Mike Downey • Producer
Taxing times for European producer
by Annika Pham
Celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, Film & Music Entertainment Ltd (F&ME) is at a crossroads. Co-founder Mike Downey tells Cineuropa that although producing in Europe is his passion, he now has to look to the US and South Africa while keeping his UK activities going because of the new UK tax laws. The company has no less than seven feature films worth $32m in production to be delivered by December 31, 2006, along with San Sebastian competition title Border Post by Rajko Grlic.
What are you the most proud of after five years as head of F&ME?
Mike Downey: I suppose after five years, we do have a company that despite the difficult climate for independent film production has been able to build a substantial business and has been profitable since the beginning. This has allowed us to invest in quality films and talent in Europe and has made us well-known for that.
Who are your key partners in Europe?
Because we started as part of the publicly listed company F.A.M.E. based in Munich, Germany is a very important country for us and we’re part owners of the new film financing entity Shotgun Pictures, set up by Thomas Hæberle and Torsten Poeck. But we also have a number of collaborations throughout Europe: in Finland with Matila Röhr Productions; in Iceland with Icelandic Film Company and Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s Icelandic Film Corporation; in Denmark with Zentropa and Fine & Mellow; in Spain with Mate Productions, Tornasol and Rioja Audiovisual; in Croatia with the biggest company, Propeler Film; in Slovenia, Vertigo; in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Jakubisko; in Bosnia, Refresh; in Serbia, YODI Movie Craftsman; and in Poland, Apple Film, just to cite a few names.
And you act mostly as a minority co-producer?
When we’re putting up the single biggest part of a budget, we’re one of the biggest investors, so I disagree with the notion of minority-co-producer, which can be pejorative.
What type of projects do you tend to back?
There is no formula. Just like any entrepreneurial company, we have a mixed portfolio, but we do like quality films by European filmmakers. We currently have seven feature films with a total budget of $32m that we want to deliver by the end of the year: Bathory by Czech-born Juraj Jakubisko; Dos by Guillermo Groizard from Spain; the Finnish films Mystery of the Wolf by Raimo O Niemi and Pekka Lethosaari’s Quest For a Heart; Miguel Alcantud’s new Spanish film Anastezi; an untitled project in production by Slovenia’s Damjan Kozole; and Astropia by Icelandic director Gunnar B. Guðmundsson.
What do you think of the UK government’s new co-production rules and tax breaks and what effect have those measures had on your activities?
What the UK government has done has been really damaging for European filmmaking and it shows again that the UK is totally Anglo-centric and provides no cultural support to European films. The main effect it has had on my activity is that, prior to March 31, we pushed six films into production, so we are one of the few UK independent production companies with more films than we can handle at the moment. The new measures have also made me realise that I can no longer effectively co-produce with Europe as I do not have a workable tool to reciprocate European contributions to my films. So we’re now looking into making some films in the UK and others in the US, where we can hire US stars and try to increase the value of our films. We are also moving into South Africa in a big way with our relationship with the director of U Carmen, Mark Dornford May.
What UK projects do you have in development?
We’re producing a new drama by first time filmmaker Dominic Murphy, who used to be part of Michel Gondry’s advertising stable. The story of a killer on the road is based on a script by Shane Smith and Eddy Moretti and will start shooting next January. The $2m project is co-produced by Vice-Films in Canada with support from the UK Film Council and Lumina Films handles world sales.
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