It’s been 20 years since UK advertising and music photographer Phil Hunt created Head Gear Films.
The burgeoning film production company and financier is now a major force in Cannes this year, and is involved in films including Mister Smith Entertainment’s went in that direction, Starring Jacob Elordy and Zachary Quinto, Altitude Watchman, GFM’s damned And many more, including several titles from sister company Bankside.
In 1998, Hunt produced his first feature film, Fast food, a small budget film made for £50,000 and co-starring then-unknown Gerard Butler. (The film was later distributed by Will Clarke and Danny Perkins’ Optimum Releasing.) Hunt then spent the next three years trying, as he put it, “to figure out how to get into filmmaking.”
blaming Chunky monkey. This 2001 surreal comedy-drama was Hunt’s next feature. Its director introduced Greg Crotwell Hunt to his famous friend Compton Ross, who ran Aberdeen-based oil industry Metrol Technology. “He’s an engineer but a movie buff,” Hunt says of Ross. They talked about working together. Ross asked him to write a business plan — and Head Gear started in earnest.
“It’s a very unusual partnership. [Ross] He has marginally more [of the company] than I have but I make all the decisions day in and day out. And it allowed me to fail for the first decade or so…”
Hunt is quick to explain. “We’ve always been very good operators doing what we say we’re going to do…from that point of view, we’ve never failed.”
However, in the early years, the company was operating at a loss. Head Gear participated in the 2004 Mexican thriller rabbit on the moon, for which some money was raised. “My thinking started to change from being a producer to being an investor,” Hunt recalls. “That was the crucial point, the pivot.”
In 2006, the company began injecting cash into some of the films compiled by Australian sales firm Beyond, directed by Hilary Davis and Stephen Kelleher. “In a few months’ time, I made an offer to Hillary: Why don’t you and your team leave and I’ll start a new sales company.”
This was how Bankside was formed in 2007, run by Davis and Keeler with support from Head Gear. The rationale for starting the company was that “being a leasing agent” was less risky than getting bogged down in the less secure world of development.
Meanwhile, Head Gear has become as much an investment company as it is a product.
The next major turning point in the company’s growth was the 2013 fashion drama Amma Asante belle, Starring Gugu Mbatha Row as a mixed-race British aristocrat in 18th century England.
“[Producer] Damien Jones was doing the rounds and pretty much everyone else had it,” Hunt recalls. But the market, though, “began to shift.” Hunt agreed to support the project and brought Isle of Man Film on board. BFI also invested Bankside made a “amazing sale” to Fox Searchlight. This success gave Bankside new credibility. They were no longer seen as a small British group involved in quirky independent films. Now, even American studios were taking them seriously.
Hunt has now turned his attention back to Head Gear, where he refined plans that would turn the company into one of the most prolific financiers of independent films.
In 2012 alone, Head Gear invested £18 million. The money did not come from other private investors or from banks but through Compton Ross and Head Gear itself. “The main feature of Head Gear is that I am in complete control of our destiny,” Hunt says. “I know I am the luckiest person in the film industry. I am the one who got the best investor partner.”
Head Gear has gone from a production company to a very successful financier. Hunt calculates that the company has invested around £350m over the past decade – and that Hunt himself has produced more than 300 films, everything from dark thrillers Black mass Johnny Depp starring Peter Strickland in the fabric.
Head Gear can save anything from 20% to 100% of a movie’s budget.
Hunt and partner Lucy Fenton founded production and distribution company Bohemia Media in 2020 through which they support alternative voices – and have already released films such as dams rebels Don Lets rebellious dread And Mercy Starring Alfre Woodard. Hunt also has (so far) another distribution company, which handles more commercial titles.
As it celebrates its 20th anniversary, Head Gear remains as prolific as ever. “For me, it’s all deal-driven,” Hunt says of how he chooses which projects to support. “It’s all about good business practices. Being a producer, I want to serve producers and directors. I obviously don’t want to lose money. I want to make money.” [But] We don’t need to be so greedy.”