At press time, Café Productions was engaged in hurried talks with several major u.k. producers to determine if a last-minute rescue package could prevent receivership or liquidation. Specialist accountants have been consulted and a decision determining the company’s future is expected by September 15. Andre Singer, Café’s ‘shell-shocked’ ceo, says the situation became critical surprisingly quickly: ‘Various projects got delayed, various sales that were promised didn’t come through. Things started trickling through that [were] strenuous on the cash flow situation. It all happened in the last two weeks.’ Constrained by legal obligations and ongoing negotiations, Singer was unable to reveal the fate of Café’s catalog or partnerships. He did, however, reflect on how the company came to be where it is today.
For the last eight years, Café has stood as an example of success through coproduction, believing ‘that the key to success lies in its use of a talented array of producers and directors from across Europe and America.’ Although Singer remains enthusiastic about the benefits derived from collaborating with global partners, he is less pleased with the financial gains. ‘It’s a catch-22,’ he explains. ‘On the one hand, coproduction has become essential because you can’t get finances from one country, one person or one broadcaster. But, it has become complex. You’re dealing with treaty deals, distribution deals that are linked to coproduction partners, and so on. When it actually comes down to making your programs, you’ve divided the cake into so many bits it takes years before you recoup anything. We’ve found that over eight years we’ve done lots of big coproductions for lots of big series and even if we own a large bit of the net profit of those productions, we don’t see a penny because the advances have to be repaid, the distributor has to have their 25% or 30%, and so on. Even if [the coproduction] makes a lot of money, we have to wait at least four years before we start seeing a return.’
In an effort to close the gap between investment and return, Café increased its output. According to Singer, this year was one of the indie’s most successful in terms of broadcast hours. About 30 hours of new programs aired in the u.k. alone. ‘We end up making about 40 hours a year, which sounds, but it’s not profitable,’ says Singer, admittedly speaking from a slightly jaundiced view-point. ‘You have to have more and more programming in order to get the same profits you would for one single production you control yourself. You stretch your resources, your margins are tiny – one little hiccup in a production and your fee is gone.’
Apart from streamlining financial sources, Singer suggests smaller companies can survive today’s market by diversifying their output: ‘If you get one successful entertainment program, it can sustain your factual side. We have not done that. We have rigidly – and perhaps to our cost – kept to one area of documentary filmmaking. We did try to diversify laterally into post-production and we discussed distribution, but both of those need quite a lot of cash injection. It’s an impossible thing to keep putting money in if you haven’t got it.’