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Having completed 25 films in the first five years of its existence and in the process of completing seven international feature film projects with a total budget of $42.7 million by December 2006, Film & Music Entertainment is the second most prolific production house in the UK after Working Title; and it now wants to make movies with Australians, fun loving Managing Director Mike Downey tells Andrew L. Urban.

It’s evening in Sydney, start of the business day in London so when I ring to talk to Mike Downey, I’m not surprised he’s on the phone. “Give him 10 minutes,” says the switch boy (they don’t do things like other companies). In a previous life, I worked with Mike for many years as a colleague in film industry journalism. Before that, he was active in theatre in Germany. Of course, he’s Irish. And his sense of humour is wacky. But his business acumen isn’t.

F&ME (Film & Music Entertainment) was originally part of the German publicly listed company F.A.M.E. that was on the Neuer Markt from 1999. In 2002 Sam Taylor and Mike leveraged a management buy out from the Munich based group taking all assets including completed films and projects in development. FAME liquidated 2 years later. The London operation is the only surviving entity from the group. Since then the company has been independently financed and profitable since the first year of its existence.

"a good artistic year"

It’s been a good artistic year, 2006, as well: the company has had films in official selection at San Sebastian (Border Post), Venice (Suely in the Sky) and Cannes (Princess).

“It’s very much business as usual for us,” says Downey in reference to the changing legislation of recent times in the UK, “and the new UK film tax legislation has made it much more difficult for us to partner with our European colleagues in a meaningful reciprocal way. The law is skewed in favour of big US productions coming to the UK – but we saw this coming 18 months ago and have cut our cloth accordingly. We have a vigorous and commercial set of films for 2007 and more larger budget pictures planned for 2008. And we want to make films with Australian partners now.”

The change in the UK film law has seen the company adopt a change in direction with fewer European co-productions and a change of direction towards partnering with the US, South Africa and Australia. This is clear in the three major productions for next year, the US$15 million FAKE!, the US$2 million White Lightnin’ and The Turtle Song, all to be made in North America. But The Turtle Song has already attracted a deal from Australia’s Beyond sales operation.

Some in-house projects currently in development include Aussie writer Thomas (Schindler’s List) Kennealy’s Victim of the Aurora, James Ellroy’s Killer on the Road, Jesus Christ Airlines a film set during the Biafra airlift and Rent Boy! a film with puppets written by Jane Bussman with puppets from The Wright Stuff.

“I was going to come to Australia in November,” says Mike, “partly to have a barbecue and a beer, and partly to look for projects, but it all got too busy here.”

Mike is serving his second term as board member of the European Film Academy and has just been elected to the BAFTA Council. He is also the President of the board of advisors of the Motovun Film Festival in Croatia and is the Thomas Ewing Visiting Professor of Film at Ohio University.

"a quintessential European businessman"

With a vacation cottage in Croatia and lots of European contacts, Mike is a quintessential European businessman – but he admires the Australian film community and believes that his company and Australian producers make a natural fit, as indie partners outside the Hollywood system. He also has another connection emerging with Australia ….

F&ME’s chairman and long time collaborator Stephen Daldry, who directed Billy Elliott, is heading to Sydney for the stage musical version in early 2007.

Published October 19, 2006

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