'We couldn't save Howard the Duck'

Christopher Fowler is currently working on Wilde, a biopic about Oscar Wilde, and is involved in all aspects of film making. His company, The Creative Partnership, owned equally with co-founder Jim Sturgeon, is worth about pounds 8m

It was supposed to be a secret when Mel Gibson came to our Soho office to edit the trailer for Braveheart. I'm sure it was just a coincidence that all our secretaries wore unusually glamorous outfits and started hanging out in reception. The cinema is a glamorous business. At The Creative Partnership we've promoted films like The Phantom of the Opera, Goldeneye, Tom and Viv and Picnic at Hanging Rock. You lose count of how many stars you've met.

But in Britain a Barnum and Bailey approach has often been taken to create that glamorous image. The whole campaign for a Seventies horror film called Willard involved driving a van around London with a giant rat on the roof. The worst case was when Can't Stop the Music was launched. They put "dance" and "England" together and hired Morris dancers to stand outside the theatre.

Jim Sturgeon and I started our business in 1978, when the British film industry hit all time rock bottom. He drew storyboards and I was a 24- year-old copy writer who was feeling incredibly compromised writing ads for cigarettes and pot noodles. Partly, we were lucky to get in when we did. Shortly afterwards video began to revitalise the industry. It was the birth of a media explosion.

We met while working on freelance projects and the whole decision to form a business took less than six weeks. Although we didn't borrow any money, we did talk to bank managers about what we were doing. The first one told us that most partnerships falter within 18 months. That's never been a problem for Jim and me. We still don't have a formal agreement.

Our idea was to design promotional campaigns for films from the top down. Sometimes we're so involved that we retitle a film. Until we got to it, The Crying Game was called The Soldier's Wife. We're also very blunt with our clients. If a film's a dog we tell them it's going to shed on their carpet. We told the distributors of Howard the Duck that nothing could be done to save it.

This was quite a break with tradition. There were poster design houses and radio studios and one film could have several different, sometimes conflicting campaigns. And films are just one of a wide selection of products they're selling at any given time. We were the first to specialise.

But that means that we live or die by our ideas. When we started, the first thing I did was to go through magazines like Screen and Variety noting all the films in production and on people's slates.

We came up with some sort of crappy brochure and sent it out to all of them. Despite that, the ripples spread out really quickly.

Our first mistake was putting all our savings into a horrible trip to Cannes that first year. We didn't realise that to get ourselves time to talk to people we needed to go earlier. They're all far too busy when the film festival is on. We still go every year but now we understand how it works. One film sold for pounds 1m in one territory entirely on the strength of a 10-minute promo we showed at Cannes.

In 1980 we expanded into Hollywood. In retrospect it wasn't a brilliant idea. Britain has a really spotty track record in film. One of our first projects there was also one of the strangest. Dino De Laurentis was financing Flash Gordon and had bought up an animated version to get rid of the competition. Although he wasn't going to show it, the contract said that trailers had to be produced and we got the job. We're still in the States, doing the larger indie movies, but we're playing by American rules, not the way we do it here.

Our business has had lots of ups and downs. Some months it's like the Mary Celeste, other months we're open all night. Our worst blow came when Palace Pictures went bust in 1991, owing us pounds 88,000. Jim had to remortgage his house to keep us going.

It took 18 months to dig our way out of that hole. But if you look at the business as a whole over the last 17 years it's grown pretty steadily, and now has billings of pounds 3m.

There's an adage in the film industry - no one knows anything. But Jim and I do know our business - we're both film buffs - which helped our business succeed. Even more important than that, though, is the ability to make decisions quickly. So many people want to be told what to do.

News
peopleTop Gear presenter and all-round controversialist is at it again
Sport
Aaron Ramsey celebrates after opening the scoring in Arsenal's win over Hull `
sport
News
peopleActress speaks out against historic sexual assault claims, saying things have 'gone quite far now'

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

VIDEO
Life & Style
Guests enjoy food and cocktail parings by Chefs Jimmy Bannos, Jimmy Bannos Jr, Daniel Rose and Mindy Segal with mixologists Josh King and Alex Gara at Bounty & Barrel: A Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Dinner Series at Heaven on Seven on April 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
food + drinkSprinkle Palcohol 'on almost any dish' for 'an extra kick' firm says...
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
News
politicsLabour launches the 'completely hollow' Easter Clegg
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Arts & Entertainment
Last, but by no means least, is Tommy Cooper and the fez. This style of hat became a permanent trademark of his act.
comedyNot Like That, Like This centres on alleged domestic abuse
Arts & Entertainment
Oxegen in Ireland has been axed as promoters decide it is 'no longer viable'
arts + ents Promoters have axed the event as it is 'no longer viable in current form'
News
The troubled star is set to give fans the biggest insight into her life away from the headlines
people Star made the announcement during the final episode of the programme, entitled Lindsay
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Database Team Lead ( Leadership, Sybase, Computer Science)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Database Team Lead ( Leadership, Sybase, Compute...

C#.NET Delphi SQL Developer (C#,DELPHI,SQL)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET D...

VB.NET SQL Junior-Mid Level Developer (VB.NET,SQL,Excellent com

£25000 - £35000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET S...

Trade Support, Application Support, Operations Analyst, CRM MS

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Bonus and Benefits: Harrington Starr: Trade Suppor...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players