Over the summer of 2013, Film Finances allowed some of Britain’s leading film historians to have access to its pre-1980 archives. The first fruits of that research have been published in a special issue of The Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. The contributors to the issue will share their discoveries during an afternoon at the BFI Southbank to celebrate Film Finances’ achievements over more than sixty years: ‘The Bottom Line: Behind the Scenes with Film Finances’, 1-4pm, NFT3, Saturday 10 May 2014.
Film Finances’ archives go back to the very beginning of the company, which was founded in London in February 1950. The earliest existing document is the proposal that former film producer Robert Garrett wrote in August 1949 outlining his ideas for the world’s first specialised completion guarantor. Garrett had started out in the film business in 1935, when, aged only 25, he had produced a film starring Cary Grant called The Amazing Adventure.
When Film Finances first began to look through its old papers in 2009, it discovered many old archive boxes – dusty but well preserved – that had not been opened since they were first put into storage. This is what the box for The Browning Version looked like – one of the very first films to be guaranteed – when it was opened for the first time in sixty years:
The first film to be guaranteed by Film Finances was The Woman in Question, which starred Dirk Bogarde, Jean Kent and Susan Shaw. Like The Browning Version, it was directed by Anthony Asquith. It went on the floor at Pinewood on 24 April 1950, and the first shot to be filmed was this one of Susan Shaw entering Jean Kent’s bedroom.
The chart below shows the progress of the first fourteen films to receive guarantees.
Film Finances is still in the process of mapping out the extent of an extraordinary treasure-trove that gives an unprecedented insight into not only the post-war British film industry but also the growth of independent production around the world. With a view to securing a future for the archive that will maximise its benefit for all who care about its contents, we want to make film historians, archivists, scholars and cinephiles aware of its importance. In future newsletters we will highlight some of its riches, and welcome any inquiries or suggestions for how to make the most of its potential.
The next newsletter will focus on John Croydon, who was Film Finances’ consultant from 1950 to the early 1980s. Over that period, he wrote reports on over a thousand film propositions. During his long career, Croydon had worked as a production manager, screenwriter, line producer and even studio boss. He started out at Gainsborough and Gaumont Studios in the early 1930s, worked on the three films that MGM made in Britain just before the war – A Yank at Oxford, The Citadel and Goodbye, Mr Chips – then went to Ealing Studios, where he produced the films of the great Brazilian director Alberto Cavalcanti, including the celebrated ventriloquist’s dummy episode in Dead of Night (1945).
It would be difficult to find any other individual who had a greater experience of the challenges of practical production. His reports, written often with great humour and style, appraise with an equal eye films now considered all-time classics, the long forgotten, and those that were for one reason or another never made. Taken together, they comprise a film-maker’s Bible, providing the ultimate professional’s guide to the behind-the-scenes realities of film production. Covering nearly every situation a film-maker could face, they offer a measure of Film Finances’ achievement in its first thirty years, but also serve to illustrate the riches of the archive.