Creative Capital Fund

UK film company set up to ride digital wave

The Guardian | 28/06/2006

A new British film company, Slingshot, opens for business this week with an ambitious pledge to produce 10 feature films over the next three years - a goal it hopes to achieve with a business model unique to this country: producing and distributing digital feature films.

Few deny that the future of the film industry is digital. However, the change-over from physical 35mm film and the production and distribution techniques associated with it has been slow.

Digital production techniques have taken hold fastest. The latest digital production equipment, such as hand-held cameras, and the falling cost of post-production digital effects have filtered down to lower budget movies allowing production teams to work more flexibly and cost-effectively.

Digital distribution is taking longer to establish, however, as it requires the replacement of cinema projectors.

Despite this, many in the industry believe digital distribution is inevitable because as well as offering improved picture quality distribution costs are dramatically reduced. A big blockbuster requires anything from 500 to 1,000 35mm film prints for a UK release at a cost of £1,000 per film print. A digital print, however, costs just £100.

Slingshot will take advantage of these trends in digital production and distribution, according to its managing director, Arvind David.

'Piecing together the patchwork of finance now required to get any British film off the ground is a complex affair,' he said. 'There's also a tendency for many British films to be conceived with no particular audience in mind. Few producers ask just how many people they need to see their film to justify the budget. Responsibility for covering costs is all too often passed on to third party marketers and distributors.'

Backed by equity fund Creative Capital Fund and Arts Alliance Digital Cinemas, Slingshot's business model is based on producing low-budget films - up to US$1m (£550,000) - with cast and crew paid a flat-rate fee plus a share of gross revenues. It challenges industry convention in a number of other ways, too.

'Having crunched the numbers it's clear that within a certain budget range - $5m and below - audiences tend not to care if you spend $5m or $500,000 because neither afford you big stars or glossy special effects: it's all about a story well told,' Mr David said. 'Digital production techniques enable small, flexible multi-tasking production crews to lower production costs, and the end result looks like you've spent more money on it rather than less.'

Slingshot will challenge film distribution convention, too, by adopting a flexible approach to theatrical release. 'The conventional distribution model is that a film opens first in the cinema then on DVD followed by broadcast TV. Yet while no major movie has yet been released on all three formats simultaneously, there have been a number of smaller films launched in this way in the US with no adverse effect,' Mr David said.

Slingshot is banking on continued growth of digital film production and distribution and, according to a report last month by Screen Digest, rapid growth is expected, with the number of digital cinema screens worldwide rising from 849 in 2005 to 17,000 by 2010.

The UK Film Council, which is mid-way through a £12m National Lottery-funded project to convert 250 cinema screens to digital projection by spring 2007, believes that the digital distribution revolution will offer new opportunities for the producers and distributors of lower budget feature films.

However, a number of potential obstacles remain, particularly the question of who will foot the bill. Although committed to digital projection and associated new business opportunities, illustrated by its decision to show live coverage of World Cup 2006 matches in the high definition TV format on its digital screens, Odeon has converted only 13 of its 900 screens to digital under the UK Film Council initiative.



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