Paul Grant, Accountancy Age, Thursday 13 May 2010 at 00:00:00

With finances for independent British films so tight, Steve Joberns hasplayed a leading role in ensuring some of our most successful movies have madeit to the big screen


EXT. HOLLYWOOD - DAY, 22 JANUARY 2008
</br>The camera moves slowly over the Hollywood Hills, a cloud hangs over theHollywood sign, casting a long shadow. The camera moves away from the sign andheads towards Hollywood Boulevard, as we approach the camera swoops low over themany names of actors and actresses in stars on the pavement. We glimpse a fewrecognisable names but as the camera accelerates the stars become a blur, movingfaster and faster until we reach the Chinese Theatre when the camera suddenlypans up on a man reading The Hollywood Reporter. The camera closes in on theheadline, which reads ?Heath Ledger Dead?.


Cut to

INT. ? BUSY BUT SMALL OFFICE - DAY
</br>We pull out from the headline in the Reporter, which now lies on an office desk,half buried under a pile of other industry papers. The lead story at the top ofthe pile reads: ?Is this the end for
</br>Dr Parnassus??


Terry Gilliam, director of the The Imaginarium of DoctorParnassus, looms over the paper, upset and angry, but also with a look of
</br>defiance. His furrowed face suddenly changes, as if a light bulb has switched oninside his head. He pulls out his phone. and
</br>makes a call.



</br>GILLIAM (into phone)
</br>Hi, it?s me. I?ve had an idea on how we can carry on and still use the filmingwe did with Heath. We?ll need to speak to the financiers to see if they?ll stillgo for it. But in the meantime get me the numbers of Colin Farrell, Jude Law andJohnny Depp.


Fade

EXT. LONDON?S WEST END ? DAY
</br>Fade to an aerial shot of a busy and overcast London. Cut to an aerial close-upof Leicester Square, followed by the outside of an office building just off theSquare. The sign by the door reads ?Shipleys LLP?.


INT. SHIPLEYS ? DAY
</br>We cut to the office of Steve Joberns, partner in the filmdivision at accountants Shipleys. He is working at his computer when the phonerings.


STEVE JOBERNS (into phone)
</br>Hello, Steve here


VOICE ON PHONE
</br>Hi Steve, just to let you know that Dr Parnassus is going ahead again. But we?llneed your help?


Fade

This screenplay may not depict exactly how the events surrounding theproduction of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus unfolded, but it is based on atrue story and Shipleys? Steve Joberns did play a crucial part in ensuring themovie still made it to release, despite the death of its leading actor halfwaythrough filming.

The plan by Gilliam to have Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp playdifferent parts of Ledger?s role when filming eventually resumed would requiremore than just script changes. It could easily have thrown a spanner in theworks over the financing of the movie.

?We had to go through quite an extensive process with the UK Film Council tomake sure they would still bless the film as a UK and Canada co-production,?says Joberns.

?It was key because a lot of the film was financed by tax credits in the UKand Canada. If we hadn?t done that, then those tax credits would not have beenavailable.?

Joberns and representatives of the financiers were tasked with devising aplan to ensure that these credits, which were the lifeblood of the production,continued to flow despite the inevitable delays and changes to the make-up ofthe film.

In particular the introduction of US actor Johnny Depp was causingsignificant concern on the Canadian side.

?Given the terrible circumstances it would have been difficult for the FilmCouncil to turn around and not accept [our proposals], but there were alsonegotiations with the UK equivalent of our film council and they are often veryreluctant to have American actors or crew on films that they are backing throughtheir tax system.?

?As you can imagine it was quite a hairy time,? he says.

Shipleys is responsible for handling the finances of roughly 70% of UKindependent films, with Joberns involved with a large chunk of these. Over thelast four years he?s worked on over 300 films that qualify as UK productions orco-productions, many arthouse films that you have probably never hear of, butsome that have become smash hits and even achieved Oscar glory, such as SlumdogMillionaire (see box), 28 Days Later or Moon.
</br>But given the complex nature of some of these productions, Joberns admits ?a lotof the work we do is not finance related, it is managing the film process?.

In this sense the advisory role that Joberns plays on films can be thedifference between success and failure. Take the opening last weekend of FourLions, a controversial ?Jihad comedy? by The Day Today and Brass Eye creatorChris Morris. Joberns?s role with the filmmakers was significant, though he wassketchy on the details.

?We got involved in that film through the production company we look after,?he says. ?Chris Morris approached them, he had the idea for the film but didn?tknow how to get it made. He also had a number of people he knew who would liketo invest in it.?

He talks a little more before clamming up, aware that the provocative natureof the film may well have caused massive outrage following its release ? andpotential reprisals for those involved.

Joberns work with the production companies ensures the right tax credits keepthe finances of the film flowing while he also advises on the interaction of theother elements of finance, including what he calls ?soft money?, such as thatfrom the UK Film Council and ?expensive hard costs? that come from moretraditional methods of finance, such as banks.

While every film obviously has its own idiosyncrasies, ?they all share acommon theme?, meaning that the experience that Joberns has acquired over theyears is invaluable. Most of his work comes from referrals, such is hisreputation within the industry. His standing means he is often called in toadvise bodies such as the UK Film Council, The Department for Culture, Media andSport and HM Revenue & Customs on various policy matters relating to thefilm industry.

There is, of course, a more glamorous side to the work as well. Joberns oftenhas the opportunity to visit film sets, sometimes in exotic locations, attendmovie premiers and even has his name on film credits. Then there is thenetworking, and in the movie industry that means Cannes.

Joberns stresses that ?it?s hard work when you?re down there? but will admitthat there are ?undoubtedly perks to the job?.

?There was a film we looked after about three years ago called Flyboys, whichwas financed by Larry Ellison, the chief exec of Oracle. We were instrumental inputting together a lot of the rest of the financing for the film. So, when wewere down in Cannes, Larry invited a few key people onto his boat, which at thetime was the biggest privately owned yacht in the world. It?s great, but you?restill networking, you?re just networking on a 300m boat. There are worse placesto be than out at sea, just outside Cannes Harbour, drinking champagne.?

Perhaps then, it is unsurprising that when we talk about his own future he ishappy to say that in many ways he is already in his dream role, despite the longand sometime unsociable hours he keeps. He does have plans to expand his remitfurther into television, but with all the trappings associated with the silverscreen Joberns lead role will remain in film for some time to come.

Slumdog Millionaire

As well as being one of the most successful films Joberns has worked on,Slumdog Millionaire also turned out to be one of the most complicated,especially when it came to qualifying for that all-important tax credit.
</br>?The film didn?t lend itself naturally to being a British qualifying film,? saysJoberns.

?It was an Indian cast, largely local Indian crew, not shot in the UK.Therefore most people said, how on earth can that be a British film?
</br>?But, if you scratch beneath the surface, there were certain areas where youcould start scoring points on the British film application, and we managed tomake enough arguments to the UK Film Council to enable the film to qualify asBritish.?

In order to qualify for a UK tax credit, at least 25% of the production costsneed to be spent in the UK. Not an easy task for a film made in India.
</br>?The film was shooting 100% outside the UK, so it was always going to be veryclose to the wire,? he says?.

?We had to sit down with the producers and the lawyers and say, if we do thiswork here, we?re not going to get our tax credit. We?ve got to do this elementof the budget in the UK in order to stand a chance.?

Even with all these issues resolved and a plan in place to qualify for thetax credits, things can still go wrong unless there is a firm hand on thetiller.

?You?re monitoring the spend all the way through the production process, sothat financiers are comfortable that costs aren?t flipping.

?Typically films will overspend in the shoot period, particularly when theyare in very difficult locations, such as India. If you overspend too much youcould find that when you get to UK post-production you haven?t got theopportunity to bring the spend back to the 25% level.?

Tight cost control eventually ensured that the film qualified for this ?softmoney? and became a huge, Oscar-winning success.