Our popular Meet the client series shines the spotlight on the companies we support with legal services. This time, we talk to TJ Herbert, founder of Itchy Fish Film. TJ tells us what inspired him to found his independent production company, the story behind his most successful film and opportunities with his new interactive film The Last Ripper Tour.
Name and job title
TJ Herbert, Founder, Itchy Fish Film
What is it your company does?
We produce highly commercial feature films on realistic budgets that offer strong opportunities for returns for investors. Our first feature was an ultra-low-budget horror film The Cutting Room, which we produced for £15,000 and returned 300%. As an actor, I’d trod the boards for 15 years, but I wanted to start producing my own films. Our production company’s biggest success to date is the Bromley Boys – think Billy Eliot meets The Full Monty, but set on a south-east London league football pitch. We made the film for £1m and it’s now available in 45 countries. I’m an ex-lawyer and a serial entrepreneur, so I have a background in bringing brands to market – I used to run a soft drinks’ company and an ice cream company before this.
Who do you work with?
As an independent producer with my own production company, we don’t have clients as such. We have crews and we have investors. The remarkable thing about film-making is that it is the most collaborative art-form. I feel real pride when I see a film’s credits, as there has been thousands of contributors involved in its making. As an independent film company, we aren’t linked to a studio either. With The Bromley Boys, we had a total of 65 investors, a mix of private equity, sponsorship and other sources, and I work hard to keep them all updated with news about the film’s ongoing success.
How long have you been in business and how has your business grown?
We incorporated in in 2011, when I optioned the novel The Bromley Boys. We didn’t actually shoot the film until 2016, which speaks volumes about the journey involved with financing an independent film! I had the film financed three times before we actually went into production.
What inspired you to start your business?
My own path into film-making has had a few twists and turns. I started out at Lloyds of London, then became a maritime lawyer and set up my own law firm. I looked after ships for the Hungarian government, tracking down missing cargo. After one too many conference calls with pirates, I realised I had to do something about my own itchy feet. My brother-in-law at the time was in advertising and working on a shoot with Ryan Giggs: I thought to myself, that’s what I’d like to do. So I gave up law, got a job as a runner on a film set (like everyone starting out in film) and I worked my way up from there. I retrained as an actor in the late 90s, and the name of the company plays on my own itchy feet, while the fish is a reference to being a Pisces. And as an independent film production company, we’re a small fish in the pond of big studios.
What have been the biggest recent challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?
When it comes to film, there’s always a series of challenges to overcome! With The Bromley Boys, I got to the point where I thought I had raised all the money. So I contracted my cast and the creative team of 200 people, then some of the investment fell through. I was left with no other option than to put my property up as a guarantee – this isn’t something I’d recommend! From day one of our shoot, I had the extra pressure on my shoulders of having to make the film happen as well as raising more money. Add a lead actor with food poisoning and a missing camera to the mix, and we were about 50K behind after the first three days of the shoot! What’s so magical about film-making though is that the camaraderie on shoot lifts your spirits, and the team around me carried me through. I’m happy to say that my mindset shifted, I managed to raise the extra money, and the film got made.
What are your hopes/goals for the next 1-3 years?
My uncle James Herbert was a famous horror writer, and I like to think that those creative genes have been passed down to me. My next project falls squarely in the horror genre, but takes the story beyond a traditional horror film. With The Last Ripper Tour, we’re creating an exciting interactive feature film that explores the labyrinth of East London made notorious by Jack the Ripper as he carried out his gruesome crimes. Set in the present-day, this part-video game, part-interactive film, follows the adventures of a so-called ripperologist who takes a group on an eventful tour of the same streets Jack the Ripper frequented, with terrifying results. We’re raising investment right now for the Last Ripper Tour, we’re almost halfway there, and we already have a distribution deal in place with Playstation and Nintendo. What’s different about interactive films is that they’re downloaded as soon as they’re released, so for investors, you get a much faster return on investment than traditional feature film. We’ll release it as a traditional feature as well, but the beauty of this project is it’s investor-friendly, and interactive films typically make three times their money back. Interested parties can watch our mood reel here! Or you can drop me an email if you'd like to find out more.
What has it been like to work with Harper James?
I first found out about Harper James via Syndicate Room, who were one of our investors in The Bromley Boys. I started firing questions over to Jas Bhogal, who I got on with well, and she quickly became a trusted adviser. I am someone who doesn’t want to leave things to chance. The last thing you want is a disgruntled investor, because you haven’t told them everything or you haven’t been clear or transparent. I can safely say with Harper James Solicitors’ guidance, no stone is left unturned. Everyone knows exactly where they are. I’ve had no issues.
How has working with Harper James benefited your business?
The legal team at Harper James has helped me to do things the right way – from meeting FCA regulations to making sure we qualify for creative tax relief at 20% from HMRC. It’s been responsive and cost-effective good legal advice. When you set out raising money for a feature film, you have got to get maximum money on screen. The legal costs I had were very reasonable and that was very reassuring, knowing that things weren’t going to spiral out of control.