If you’ve put money into Simon West’s new ‘Spinal Tap meets The Hangover’ comedy – a rare mid-budget film going cap-in-hand to the internet – you might get more back than a complimentary mouse mate

Director Simon West made Tomb Raider, The Expendables 2 and Con Air, and has shuttled stars such as Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie and Sylvester Stallone to some of their biggest box-office successes. He’s a blockbuster film-maker, but his new film – Salty – couldn’t be more indie.

West has invited public investors, by using the equity crowdfunding platform SyndicateRoom, to buy shares in Salty in order to fund production. The project has broken UK crowdfunding records, reaching £1.9m last month. This is the first time members of the public have been given the chance to buy shares in a film’s major returns, so now all eyes are on Salty – to see what West can deliver for his many investors.

Adapted from a novel of the same name by Mark Haskell Smith and reworked by West and comedy writer Toby Davies (of That Mitchell and Webb Look), Salty follows a reformed sex-addict musician who is persuaded to take a holiday in Thailand by his supermodel wife. It’s a comedy adventure film described by West as “Spinal Tap meets The Hangover”. The film is set to start filming later this year and predicted to attract an A-list cast.

Most of West’s investors are looking on this as a business venture, aware that they will not get any creative input. The producers’ box-office focus differentiates it from the more leftfield, niche film projects that have previously been publicly funded by fans. Here, investors will see a return on their money, as West explains. “Syndicate is unique in that investors are in a different position than if they backed a film on Kickstarter. They become a real financial partner who will receive a share of the profits,” he says.

James Morley, a Salty investor who lives in Berkshire and has a background in IT management, is one of the individuals who – without any prior engagement in the film industry – has decided to back West. He feels confident in his investment because of the director’s strong track record in creating films that have stormed the box office. Plus, there’s the security of knowing that the rest of the film’s budget has been raised through larger contributors. The £10m budget will be topped up by a large endowment from angel investors and tax-credit returns, and London-based Carnaby Sales & Distribution is taking on the the worldwide sales distribution.

Approximately 50% of the budget raised will go towards attracting top acting talent, with any profits being split 50/50 between the producers and investors; after repayment of the invested equity, shareholders such as Morley will own 50% of the profit paid to the company. There are many risk factors involved, as is the case with any startup, but larger-scale involvement and the producers’ proven history have put Morley’s mind at ease. This endeavour is business, not pleasure for him; but he does recognise what a unique opportunity having a stake in a film of this stature offers. He describes a “sense of ownership” of the film.

This is the first time that a mid-budget movie has sought public investment. The appeal for West lies in the creative and financial freedom that he gets by not acquiring funding from big studios. “With financial institutions there’s interest and extra charges attached, so a large chunk of budget is already taken up and the results often never get on the screen,” he says.


It’s an impressive start for Salty, but not everyone is convinced when it comes to what is still a very new way of acquiring funds to make a film. Matt Risley from Total Film magazine believes this way of funding can actually be detrimental: “While crowdfunding does give people more freedom and more liberty to create the movie that they want, unencumbered by studio red tape and a thousand different departments, it does also mean there’s an issue with quality control,” he says.

It is still unclear whether the success of crowdfunded films could spell a step towards audiences paying to get the high-quality films they want to see made. Crowdfunding does, to an extent, offer the opportunity for those wanting to back a film to get involved in production, but this seems to require sums of money that can’t be generated from enthusiasm alone.

Also, the desire to see a film made is unlikely to be the main objective for members of the public who are investing upwards of thousands of pounds of their own hard-earned money. The real benefits seem to lie with the film-maker, who is able to make more films with fewer restrictions. This could lead to more independent films being produced – but if crowdfunders are actually interested in making big returns, it is unlikely to benefit many independent film-makers working with lower budgets, so dashing our hopes of greater variety in cinemas.

• This article was amended on 15 April 2015 to clarify that the crowdsourcing platform used for Salty is SyndicateRoom, not Syndicate. We also incorrectly said that Kerry Fox wrote the piece. Kerry Flint was the author. These errors have been corrected.

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