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ISA of the Day: Hilary Davis of Bankside Films

ISA of the Day: Hilary Davis of Bankside Films

Our International Sales Agent (ISA) of the Day coverage has resumed for
this year’s Cannes Film Festival. We will feature successful, upcoming,
innovative and trailblazing agents from around the world (during and after the
festival) and cover the latest trends in sales and distribution. Beyond the
numbers and deals, this segment will also share inspirational and unique
stories of how these individuals have evolved and paved their way in the
industry, and what they envision for the new waves in global cinema.  
 

The London based Bankside
Films is a newer company on the sales and distribution scene, but don’t let it
fool you. Its highly talented and experienced team makes this boutique sales
agency a leader in the industry. The Bankside Films library consists of 35
films, aside from the titles it’s currently selling, including Freeheld, Ashby,
and Detour.
This year has been its best year with the recent success of Belle,
starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Reid, Sarah Gadon, and Tom Wilkinson.
 

Co-Managing Director Hilary Davis shares more about her
years and wealth of experience that helps to make Bankside Films a distinguished
company in independent cinema, the company’s background and latest films, and
reflects on trends and changes in the industry:    

How did Bankside Films begin?

Bankside Films was formed in
January of 2007. We have Stephen Kelliher, who’s our head of sales. Stephen and I were working
at a company called Beyond Films, it was an Australian company, but we were the
film division based in London. While we were there, we started a joint venture
with Phil Hunt, whereby he funded a couple of minimum guarantees on our behalf.
As a result, we started to put everything under one roof. We started talking
about creating a company together, and it happened very quickly. In fact, we
were able to transfer the last eight films that Stephen and I had been selling
at Beyond Films into the new company. We started out with a small library, and
we’ve been growing it ever since.

We are in the fortunate
position of having access to funds, via our main investor, but our core
business is international sales. I’ve been doing it for 32 years now. Stephen
has been in the business for 20 years. It’s a boutique style company, but we
use all our contacts with financiers and filmmakers worldwide to invest in
films and actually sell them.

Our library has about 35
titles. That’s not including the films we’re actively selling, which totals to
about eight. We’re always looking for English language projects by distinctive
filmmakers (we don’t do foreign language) of high quality that we believe will
be able to sell. We look for films that are unique and of top quality, because
that’s what the buyers always want. Even if it’s a story that’s been told many
times before, they always want some new slant to it.

What do you look for when considering projects?

We’ve always had our
successes with the more outlandish, left field stories. Whenever we’re
considering a project, we always have that debate. What is the hook? What is
going to appeal to the buyers? We have to think about all these things, and we
have to keep a very keen eye on cast. Who’s rising? Who’s not? Who’s good? It
is a brutal business, and you’re only as good as your last film.   

We have to also keep an eye
on what’s working in the box office, which territories are strong, and which ones
are going down. You know it’s fascinating, because it gives you a worldview of
how territories are doing and who’s coming up in terms of countries and
economies. You know they’ve been up and down, and up again.

I think Russia was coming up
so strongly and quickly, but now it’s declined a little bit. India and China
have exploded. Brazil is very strong at the moment. It’s always about North
America, and the buyers always say to us, “Who’s going to distribute your
film in America?” so that’s still a key country.

How are sales this year?

Our biggest success to date
is with Belle, a film that has been a tipping point in our development and has
just been released in North America. There’s been a lot of press about it in
the states. That’s going to be released next month on the 13th of June in the
UK. We sold that to Fox Searchlight worldwide, in what was a massive deal for
us. Frankly, it’s been the highlight of our careers, and it’s enabled us to move
on to the next steps.

We’ve had our best year
ever, and every year in Bankside’s development has been an improvement from the
previous year. It’s been a gradual and steady process of growth. We want to
retain our boutique style, and we’re never going to become one of these huge
companies. That’s not who we are. We want to retain that sense of really caring
for each film, and remain producer friendly so they’ll want to come back to us
with their next films. It’s hard to do repeat business, but you really build
your business when you get the reputation for being very honest, but also very
successful. We’ve spent our careers building our reputations in this way.

Please talk about some of your more recent
films. 

We’ve recently done a North
American deal with Relativity Media for Hector
and the Search for Happiness
, which was launched in Berlin this year.
It stars Simon Pegg and Toni Collette. That was one of the larger budget films
that we worked on, and we invested money into that as well.
 

We’re in post-production on a
film called Backtrack,
which is an Australian production staring Adrien Brody and Sam Neill. Stephen
and I are quite well known in Australia because of our years of experience with
Beyond Films. We always have an eye on what’s happening in the Australian
market, and that’s how this film came to us.

Another film in
post-production is called X
+ Y
. It’s by first time director Morgan Matthews, who has really made
his name as a documentarian. He expanded what was a heartfelt documentary into
a feature film. We’re very pleased with the way it’s going, and we’re hoping to
launch it later in the year. It stars
Asa Butterfield and
Sally Hawkins.

Please talk about your background. 

When I graduated, I saw an
advert for a job that said “Film Company. European Languages are an advantage.”
I could speak French, Italian and Spanish, so I went for the interview. It was
the London office and European headquarters of Warner Brothers, and they
offered me the job on the spot. That was it, and I was off! I couldn’t believe
that it was possible to watch films during the day for a job. It was almost too
good to be true! I stayed there for 18 months, and then I went to Handmade Films,
which was George Harrison’s company, and I stayed there for fifteen years. It
was the most wonderful company, because it was a production company that would
fully finance and distribute films. I started there in 1984, and it was
an amazing time. There were about four to five sales companies in London at the
time, and now there are over 30. The business has changed so much over the years, but alll
these experiences gave me the confidence to start Bankside.


What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen
during your career?

There’s just more of everything.
There are more films, more companies, more producers, and more sellers. This is
my 26th Cannes. I think about the past when we didn’t have mobile phones. We
just got the directions for meetings and stuck with our plans. There wasn’t all
this last minute “I’m here, where are you?” stuff. I think there’s
just been an explosion of activity. You see many more films from different
cultures and countries. In Cannes, the selectors are so open to that. Look at
the range of films in selection; it’s quite amazing to see all the varied
countries that have films in selection.

I lived in Nice for a year
when I was studying, and taught English in a school there. One evening, I took
the train from Nice to Cannes during the festival. I was walking around and
thought it was so interesting. I never imagined for a moment that I would
return in a professional capacity, and now I’ve been coming back ever since.
Seeing Nice from the plane yesterday really took me back to those days. Working
in the film business almost feels like a destiny or a fate, especially with my
success over the past year… It’s just been incredible.

Learn
more about the Bankside Films library here.

 

More About Bankside Films:

Based in London, Bankside is a leading
international sales and film finance company for independent films. Founded in
January 2007 by Phil Hunt, Hilary Davis, Stephen Kelliher,
Greg Cruttwell and Compton Ross, the company offers a bespoke sales and
executive producer service to production companies, representing between eight
and ten films a year. Bankside¹s principals have built up strong relationships
with international distributors and offer a consistent approach to the market
with a wide range of genres and budgets. Since its inception, Bankside
cash-flows pre-sales, tax credits and finances gap using its knowledge and
extensive relationships with international financiers and distributors.

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