Film Finances Ltd came into being following the severe financial crisis that afflicted the British film industry in the years 1947 to 1949. The losses that the big film corporations in Britain (most notably the Rank Organisation) incurred in their production activity during this period caused them to cease to provide direct finance for film production and to rely instead on distribution guarantees (i.e., they would get the feature films they needed for their cinema chains by guaranteeing to distribute films made for them by independent producers rather than producing those films themselves; on the strength of the guarantee, the independent producer could then raise money from the bank, but he – rather than the film corporation − would be taking the risks of production.) At about the same time, to alleviate the severe difficulties independent producers were having in obtaining finance, the British government set up the National Film Finance Corporation. The independent producer would raise about 70 per cent of the budget from a bank on the security of the distribution guarantee, and would then turn to the National Film Finance Corporation for the ‘end money’. As the distribution guarantee only came into effect upon delivery of a completed film and lenders, whether the banks or the NFFC, needed assurances about the effective use of their money, the completion guarantee, which Film Finances pioneered, became a cornerstone of this new system of British film financing.
In return for a percentage of the budget, Film Finances would guarantee to the lenders that the contracted film would be delivered to the distributor and undertake to meet any overcosts on the production. But it would only issue a ‘bond’ once it was satisfied that the independent producer was able to meet a set of stringent conditions relating to the production of the film. In the very few cases where a production it had guaranteed got into serious difficulties Film Finances had the right to take over and finish the film.
To fulfil its role successfully, Film Finances in practice acted as both referee and production consultant. It required a producer to undertake the most rigorous preparationbefore a film went on the floor and then monitored the progress of the production closely. It was ultimately an insurer, but had its own considerable film expertise.
The company was incorporated on 24 February 1950. Its founders were a Lloyds underwriter, Peter Hope, and a film producer, Robert Garrett. As a Wing Commander in the RAF during the war, Garrett became head of the Air Section at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, famous for cracking the Nazi Enigma code. After the war he had been associated with Constellation Films, a company set up by Anthony Havelock-Allan, who had produced the early David Lean films, Brief Encounter (1945), Great Expetations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948).
In the 1960s Film Finances assumed an increasingly international dimension, as Hollywood companies began to pour money into UK and Europe-based production. The production of the film Dr No (1962) provides an example of the pattern. The Hollywood distributor, United Artists, only agreed to back Saltzman and Broccoli’s first James Bond movie on condition that their company, Eon, agreed a completion guarantee with Film Finances. The arrangement was a way of UA assuring itself that there would be some degree of control over a production that would be far from its own doorstep. Although the phenomenal success of the Bond films meant Eon would not need to rely on a completion guarantee in the future, many other celebrated Hollywood-backed, but Europe-based productions used Film Finances as a similar means of control: e.g., Tom Jones (1963), which won the Best Film Oscar, The Ipcress File (1965), or Cabaret (1972).
In the early 1970s, Richard Soames joined Film Finances. Taking over from Robert Garrett as managing director of the company a decade later, Soames pursued an expansionist policy, building the business in Canada, Australia and the US. The climate of international film-making encouraged this development. The traditional Hollywood majors were now being joined by a number of new independent companies such as Orion, New Line or Hemdale that regarded the completion guarantee as an important element in their financing. And in the case of Canada and Australia, the introduction of tax incentives designed to encourage the development of an indigenous film industry led to may independent producers seeking completion bonds to provide the necessary reassurance to the banks.
An important landmark was when in 1982 Film Finances provided a completion guarantee to Francis Ford Coppola for the films Outsiders (1983) and Rumblefish (1983). After the troubled productions of Apocalypse Now (1979) and One from the Heart (1982), which had gone disastrously over-budget, the studios were reluctant to work with Coppola. Film Finances’ readiness to take the risk enabled Coppola to make a successful comeback. The following full-page advert ran in Variety: ‘Film Finances Ltd congratulates Francis Ford Coppola on completing principal photography of The Outsiders on schedule and on budget.’ Given Coppola’s then reputation in the industry, the message, ‘on schedule and on budget’, was a powerful calling-card. Other notable productions that the company guaranteed in this period include Nightmare on Elm Street − whose success was so important to New Line that the studio is often referred to as ‘the house that Freddy built’ − Terminator (1984), Salvador (1986) and Platoon (1986), the second film guaranteed by Film Finances to win the Best Film Oscar.
Of course, things did not always go smoothly. The most notorious production in the company’s history was the Terry Giliam film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). No sooner had it gone into production at Cinécittà studios in Rome than it fell disastrously behind schedule. Film Finances stepped in to take over the production, but it was too late to prevent a film that had been budgeted at $23 million from finally costing twice that amount. None the less the company survived the setback to become a major presence in Hollywood and international film-making. With Slumdog Millionaire (2008), it recently guaranteed yet another production that would go on to win the ‘Best Film’ Oscar. In the early-1990s, the ownership of the company was transferred to the US, so that today Film Finances, Inc, is the parent company of Film Finances Ltd as well as a handful of other subsidiaries around the world.
Quite apart from its own history, what is extraordinary about Film Finances is the treasure-trove of production materials that it has accumulated over sixty years. Closely monitoring the progress of each film for which it provides a guarantee, Film Finances requires copies of the key production documents − script, budget, cross-plot, schedule, daily progress reports and weekly cost sheets. These provide the basis of a huge archive relating to over 3,000 films, including many of the great classics of English-language cinema: John Huston’s African Queen (1951) or The Man Who Would be King (1975), Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960), Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963), Accident (1967) or The Go-Between (1970).