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The rules were as for any speed-dating event: the courting couple sat face to face, and had exactly 25 minutes to impress each another. But the participants had money rather than love on their minds.
The three-day event, which ended on Tuesday, brought 60 film producers to meet 55 financiers in the hope of raising funding for their projects. More than 1,000 brief encounters took place at the Hilton London Tower Bridge, and although it is too early to know if romance has blossomed, early reports indicate that phone numbers were exchanged.
The scheme was the brainchild of Film London, the agency that was established three years ago to promote London as a centre of film production and has helped raise investment in the UK capital dramatically, from £577m in 2005 to £842m last year. Adrian Wootton, chief executive of Film London, said the aim of the production finance market was to act as a “lightning rod”, to co-ordinate film investment in London, which had been conducted on an ad hoc basis. Producers pitched to traditional financiers such as New Line Cinema and Paramount Pictures International, as well as banks, hedge funds and private equity firms, such as Limelight, Aramid and Rubicon International.
About £250m worth of business was pitched all together. “The history of British film production is as a boutique or cottage industry, which is not the way it is done in the US at all,” said Mr Wootton, who orchestrated the “dates”.
“This was about hard-nosed, business-to-business contact, and putting the right people in touch with the right people.”
One financier confided he had seen four companies he might not even have known about otherwise – and he was investing in all four, he said. Film London’s success in removing some of the logistical obstacles from film-making in London has been rewarded with sharp increases in location shooting in the capital. Last year there were 13,802 shooting days in London, up 42 per cent from three years ago. Hollywood blockbusters such as The Da Vinci Code, The Bourne Ultimatum and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer all featured scenes shot in London.
The result created a multiplier effect, said Mr Wootton.
“There are obviously the film industry companies and all the associated service industries – then there are the secondary spend businesses such as hotels. And then there is the effect on tourism – films are the most effective way of advertising London.” He said a new brand of tourist – the “set-jetter” – travelled the world in search of film locations. “Even Westminster Abbey, which didn’t exactly approve of The Da Vinci Code, had a record number of tourists after its release,” he added.
A survey for Film London had shown that one in 10 of all London visits had been triggered by seeing the city in a film or on television. The five most popular film locations were Battersea Park, the BA London Eye, the Millennium Bridge, Tate Modern and Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill. The establishment of new bodies such as the Metropolitan Police Filming Unit and a code of practice had helped make life easier for film-makers, said Sue Hayes, film commissioner for Film London. “When the London Eye first opened, it was reluctant to be used, it didn’t want to be associated with films about terrorism,” she said. “When we sat down with them and explained what would happen in Fantastic Four, where it is ripped off its moorings, and then replaced by a bunch of super-heroes, they listened and were very understanding.”