SEIS Films On Fire
If you want to make a feature film in the UK, unless Mum and Dad are loaded or you hang out with hedge funders on a regular basis, or unless you get a lucky break securing an agent early in your career, you have a long, steep hill to climb as a screenwriter.
Yes, you can apply to BFI for funding. You can apply for regional funding. You can go to endless film events, pitching your script and swapping business cards to people who are usually too busy to even read your script. Good luck with that.
Or… you can knuckle down and produce it yourself.
Yes, I know: easy to say, not so easy to do. But you have to get aggressively into the mindset that you can do it, or you never will.
And I speak from experience. Because although I have produced a bunch of shorts, a play, some ads and some shorts, these are hills compared to the mountain that is a feature film.
And if you’re a creative for whom lists of figures on an excel sheet are usually enough to bring on a panic attack – who, me? – you need help. Not that kind of help, I mean a producer who has already put movie deals together.
HOW TO GET STARTED WITH AN SEIS FILM
Just make sure your script, or your writer’s script if you’re a director, has been through at least two sets of professional screenplay coverage. Frankly I’m amazed at how many indie feature scripts have not gone under the knife of a professional analyst. Yes, it’s painful, it also costs a few hundred bucks, but if it helps, think of it as the equivalent of spending money on a survey of a house that might be built on soil that is about to subside the next time we have heavy rain.
If you can’t do budgets, hire someone who can. That’s what I did. I mean, I can do budgets, but it’s not my strength, it’s a bit painful, I’d sooner hire someone who does this sort of thing for a living.
The question is, what kind of budget? Which is another way of asking yourself, Who do you think you are?
Realistically, if you haven’t yet directed a feature that has done some business at the box office, or even VOD, the answer to that would be: I’m a 150K sorta guy. Why 150K? Because that’s the maximum budget for an SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) film in the UK.
150 is tight. I shall avoid any the crude analogies but yes, they do come to mind, because it is very tight and uncomfortable. So you might have to lose that ambitious car chase through Soho at dawn, also the crowd scene at The London Eye… You get the picture: a script with few locations and no major stunts would be the ideal for a micro budget movie.
This is why so many SEIS projects tend to be in the horror genre. Put some people in a hut in the wood, kill them off one by one, keep costs low. That said, this way of thinking, and adapting to the demands of the SEIS structure, is no excuse for writing crap and hoping to wing it. You are about to ask high net worth individuals to invest in your film, so you owe it to them, as well as your team, to make sure your film is a step up from a mere showreel piece.
To convince any potential investor that you are serious and good at what you do, you have to produce a business proposal. If you’re a creative, it’s likely you will need financial, possibly even legal, assistance, in doing that. In any event, for SEIS proposals, you will need the help of a financial advisor who knows inside out what the HMRC and investors are looking for.
Don’t know anyone who can, then you network on Linkedin and film festivals like I did until you find a man who does. It’s that simple.
Remember you are no longer the writer or writer/director, you are the producer or co-producer. You are driving this project from now on.
Once you have a business partner who understands film finance better than you do, and you’re both happy with the script, you sit down together to divvy up the paperwork. With my own scripts, it made sense that I concentrate on the ‘creative’ side of the proposal, while my busines partner, Phil Taylor, guided me through the legal and financial issues.
HMRC APPROVAL REQUIRED FOR SEIS FILMS
The first task is to get HMRC approval. Without HMRC approval your film won’t qualify for the major tax relief afforded by SEIS.
Fortunately Phil knew a man, who could help in this regard. First, we needed to put together a 10-15 page PDF outlining the project – the kind of film it was, the market for it, the proposed cast, similar titles, together with some ‘pretty pictures’. Don’t know how to write or design a proposal? Work from a proposal someone has already produced and build your proposal round that. If you can barely use Photoshop and InDesign, you find someone who can. I was lucky enough to get the help of my two daughters!
Our first project was my feature Safe In The House (formerly Burning), a comedy thriller that might be compared to Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave and Mike Leigh’s Naked, while in no sense an homage. I’d succeeded well in containing over 60% of the action to one location, but the cast is over the preferred number of under 10, so it’s tight. That word again. Still, we got the figures to hit the 150K mark and feedback on the script strongly suggests we can attract some serious talent, micro budget notwithstanding.
While putting these proposals together, you have to form a limited company for that film – for example, Burning Limited – and set up a busines bank account for that company. You can do this online in just a few minutes by making yourself the Director and sole shareholder, then taking the documents sent to you by Companies House to a bank as proof you have a legtimate business.
Once we had HMRC approval, which took about 3 weeks, our SEIS guy drafted a much larger document – an Information Memorandum – for our review and asked us to fill in the gaps for synopsis, cast under consideration, our preferred choice of legal and accountancy teams, and so on.
A task Phil and I thought might take a few weeks took most of the winter. When you look at the detail of the finished documents – one long one at over 60 pages of A4, setting out all the particulars of the project and the benefits to investors that accrue from an SEIS scheme in a movie; the second one, a 6-page A4 brochure – it’s not difficult to see why.
The end results look good. And, as you know, looking good is important. It shows anyone with money that you took the time and will take the time again in delivering a quality product to the people who are thinking of investing in you. As was said of the skilled assassin in Léon, you look ‘serious’.
I’ve seen a few business proposals for films in the indie sector and many of them looked to me as if they were knocked up overnight; the final PDFs our contact and his graphics designer delivered were among the best I’ve seen for this kind of proposal.
Once we had our IM for this project, we had a template for any of the other films at this budget range on our slate.
So next in was When The Money Runs Out, my feature based on my short film, Bunking Off. The IM for this project took us about 2-3 weeks as opposed to 2-3 months, because we’d done most of the graft already in the Burning IM.
BUILD A SLATE OF SEIS FILMS
I am now working on a third SEIS film – and it’ll probably be the last one we shall put through before the end of the financial year – a horror thriller called Ice In The Blood, which we plan to shoot in Romania with the help of a Romanian production company we are currently in talks with.
So this has been our development process with 2, soon to be 3, SEIS feature film projects. There’s a way to go for sure, but we are now within sight of being able to say we are in pre-production – and that’s a good feeling.
I’ve heard producers talking about developing a slate of films on the basis one out of 3 or 4 will make a profit while the others sink without a trace. I understand their thinking – but that’s not going to be the way we work, we aim to make all 3 of these films turn a profit.