Simon Willock: a distributor in producer’s clothing

How could the U.K. be more indie friendly?
October 1, 2001

How could the U.K. be more indie friendly?

One of the real issues is that broadcasters are threatened by global changes that they are increasingly disinclined to commission independents to make the more expensive genres of programming and also retain the rights. It’s becoming more and more difficult for a large group of production companies to get close to terrestrials. The relatively few production companies that are obtaining regular terrestrial commissions for significant sums of money tend to be the larger, more established specialists.

Will it get worse before it gets better?

I think the style of production that independents are getting involved in is
moving more towards the high volume/low margin material. The market that’s emerging from the once secondary area is an increasingly buoyant market. There is potential for things like BBC4 and BBC3, which will probably provide opportunities, but it’s the Discoverys and the National Geographics that we direct most of our attention to, in terms of raising production money.

How do you put the financing together to make blue chip docs profitable?

Through strategic relationships with companies that can bring commissions, but working with them at a conceptual stage and packaging the international side of things in order to bring in pre-sale partners. One must get much better selling at the front end. One has to develop funding strategies and structures and partnerships with end users much more effectively. The distributor role is increasingly becoming that of an executive producer.

The other reality, like it or not, is that the programs that go forward on this basis, regardless of which domestic market commissions them, are those crafted for the international marketplace.

Are you ever going to jump behind the camera?

I find myself already wearing a producer’s hat and I’ve only just realized I’ve got it on. Intellectually, I get a real buzz out of that and I’m beginning to become more effective at it. Am I going to be holding the camera? I doubt I could hold it steadily enough to get very good pictures.

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.