Until very recently few scholars knew of the existence of Film Finances. In spite of its crucial importance to independent film-making over more than sixty years, the company had received no academic attention whatsoever. So when the company granted access to its archive for a special issue of the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Televison, it was the start of filling a massive gap in film scholarship.
Last month the film historians who contributed to the issue gave their impressions of the archive during a special event at the BFI Southbank. An important aim of the afternoon was to balance the views of the academics with those of contemporary completion guarantors and the film-makers with whom they worked. So we were very pleased to have presentations from historians James Chapman, Sarah Street, Justin Smith and Sue Harper, but also the participation of Film Finances’ co-president Steve Ransohoff, the consultant to the UK office, Graham Easton, and the film director Mike Leigh, who has worked with the company from High Hopes in 1988 to his latest film, Mr Turner.
Sarah Street on Film Finances’s contribution to the British New Wave films of the early 1960s: “The range of documentation generated by Film Finances allows us to reconsider how particular films were produced, as well as how they have been referenced and evaluated. As with all archival collections there are gaps, questions remain and the past can never be ‘recovered’, yet Film Finances enabled British cinema to change, to travel north in 1959 and then south with Julie Christie in 1963.”
James Chapman on Film Finances’ relationship with producer Harry Saltzman: “The value of the Film Finances Archive … is not only that it provides the evidence necessary to document the production histories of some major British films but also that it contributes to a greater understanding of the role of the producer in the film-making process.”
Sue Harper on Tom Jones (1963): “The files contain a huge amount of information about the desires (and sometimes prejudices) of those who held the financial reins of British film production during a particularly parlous period in its history.”
Justin Smith on British independent production in the 1970s (The Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now and Lisztomania): “[T]he Film Finances archive does more than confirm what we already knew. Indeed, it does more than plug the gaps in our knowledge. It seems to me, in their unique role as completion guarantors, the judgements of Film Finances offer the perspective (and the prejudices) of another kind of institutional gate-keeper. And in their accounts of these chequered film histories, they provide fresh documentary evidence of the fractured lines of communication between capital and creativity that characterised this period in British film culture.”
This link will take you to an extract from the panel discussion that ended the afternoon. Mike Leigh and Film Finances’ consultant Graham Easton offer a contemporary perspective on the relationship between the completion guarantor and the film-maker (courtesy of Mile End Films).
An important theme that emerged out of the afternoon was that the essential principles of the completion guarantor remain the same as when founder Bobby Garrett first sketched a plan for the business in the summer of 1949. A figure who featured large in most of the afternoon’s presentations was the company’s first consultant John Croydon. Here is a brief profile of a man who knew more about the practical business of film-making than just about anyone else alive.
Below is an extract from Croydon’s own CV, which went back to the very beginning of the sound cinema in Britain.
After leaving Ealing in 1946, where he had produced some of that studio’s great classics, Croydon became head of production at Rank’s Highbury studio, where he sought to give promising actors, writers, composers and directors an opportunity to develop their talent. After its closure in 1949, he set up an independent production company called Coronet Films.
Croydon’s first association with Film Finances was as an independent producer seeking a guarantee. Adapted from a successful West End comedy, One Wild Oat was the third production to which Film Finances gave a bond, after A Woman in Question and The Adventurers.
Croydon gave screen legend Audrey Hepburn her first part in feature films as a hotel receptionist. At the other end of the line was her future My Fair Lady co-star Stanley Holloway.
Croydon began to write his first report for Film Finances, on Tom Brown’s Schooldays, as soon as his production of One Wild Oat had come off the floor at Riverside Studios in June 1950. Over the next thirty years a thousand more reports would follow. Together they provide, with their astonishing detail, thoroughness and perception, a unique assessment of the practical problems and personalities of the post-war British film industry.
Here are just a few examples:
The producer of Cabaret, Cy Feuer, captured well not only the essence of John Croydon’s contribution to the independent film industry over thirty years as a consultant with Film Finances, but also the role of a company that, beyond its guarantee, played an immensely constructive role in the film-making process. With its privileged overview, Film Finances had accumulated an unparalleled production experience from which film-makers were able to benefit. Money might make the world go round, but it was Film Finances’ particular skill to get the most out of money.
To mark the public unveiling of the archive, Film Finances are giving away some copies of a lavishly illustrated book about their role in the making of the first Bond film Dr No. If you would like a copy, please send a stamped addressed padded envelope, 260 X 246mm for the value of £3.80 (2nd-class postage for 1.8kg), to 15 Conduit Street, London, W1S 2XJ. Please note that this offer is available only in the UK.