Leon hopes to bring home the bacon: The film and timber industries provide the setting for a couple of unusual Business Expansion Scheme ventures

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A FILM called Leon the Pig Farmer does not sound the kind of investment that has people reaching for their chequebooks. But there was no shortage of takers when the BES scheme to raise pounds 150,000 towards production costs was launched last year.

Now the award-winning comedy - about a young Jewish estate agent who finds out his real father is a North Country pig farmer - has just opened in London to critical acclaim and the investors are hoping that the box office takings will soon be rolling in as fast as the verbal bouquets.

Christopher Parkinson is a partner in Gouldens, the City firm of solicitors that sponsored the Leon issue.

As head of the media team he has been involved in several film and TV projects including Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, partly backed by BES funds, and the BES issue for Spittoon, the production company that produces Spitting Image-style entertainment and training videos.

He said: 'You have to view it as a fun investment. Yet a lot of people are interested and it is seen as quite a sexy thing to do.

'It may be a gamble, but most people don't invest huge amounts - we usually take between pounds 1,000 and pounds 5,000 - and at least you will get your tax relief.

'The main attraction is the involvement with show business. You get invited to the charity showing or the showings for cast and crew, you go to parties with the stars, you get a copy of the video.

'Leon was not a public prospectus. We only circulated it to known investors we knew might be interested.'

Mr Parkinson believes that projects like Leon are in keeping with the original spirit of Business Expansion Scheme legislation and argues that there are ways to reduce the risk.

'We always try to put investors in a sensible position,' he said. 'Yes, your money will be tied up for five years, but it may be that the production company will go on to make other films. (Peter's Friends was made on the back of Henry V).

'It all depends on who is behind the scheme and what the prospectus says.

'Before you commit yourself you need to ask whether the film is on a sensible budget and whether it is likely to recoup that kind of money. A low-budget film would be more likely to recoup than a multi-million pound-project.

'You also need to know whether the promoter of the BES will get his money out before you, after you or at the same time. What is the incentive on the promoter to perform?'

Investors in Leon were clearly reassured. The film was made on what, in film terms, was a tiny budget of under pounds 1m.

The crew and cast - including Janet Suzman, Connie Booth, Brian Glover and Bernard Bresslaw - agreed to work for minimum union rates and defer their fees until the shareholders had been paid back first.

John Spiers, editor of BESt Investment, the leading independent commentator on BES schemes, sounds a cautious note.

'So far there have not been any profitable realisations for people who have invested in films.

'What will be achieved by those schemes which have raised money in the past two to three years remains to be seen.

'Most important, you need to ask what sort of distribution they have set up and whether they have pre-sold video and TV rights.

'Nowadays you can reduce the risks because these rights can be worth a lot. If you sell you can virtually be certain of recouping your intitial outlay without being so dependent on box office takings - providing the film gets made.

'And if the whole thing is well structured returns can be exceptionally good.

'But, bottom line, you shouldn't really look at it in financial terms. Bottom line, if you do it, it should be for fun.'

(Photograph omitted)

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