Independent production houses are showing an increased interest in financial backing from banks, which have traditionally been reluctant to lend money to the risky film industry. A small Hong Kong production, The Era of Vampires, is one of the first to get funding from a bank, with its budget of about US$3 million financed through a loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland. The film was made by independent production house Film Studio, owned by local producer Tsui Hark. Nansun Shi, Mr Tsui's wife and vice-chairman of SAR studio Media Asia, said: 'It is a healthy way of financing ourselves, and we can reserve the copyright. I hope it will open up opportunities for fellow film-makers.' Financing costs accounted for about 10 per cent of the total budget, she said. The expenses include interest payments and the completion of a bond payment, for which the bank appoints a third party to ensure the production house can meet the milestones. However, critics said the cost of film financing was still too high for small-scale local productions. Ms Shi said: 'I believe [it will be worthwhile] for films with a budget of at least US$10 million to seek help from this kind of service.' She said Media Asia was planning its biggest production yet, with leading actor Jackie Chan. It would have an estimated budget of more than US$30 million and the studio was considering financing. However, industry experts believe only films made by famous producers and superstars with an international reach will have the bargaining power to secure bank loans. The flagging sector has been hit hard by piracy and the sluggish economy over the past couple of years, and there is limited scope beyond the domestic market. Recent blockbuster Shaolin Soccer, which broke a five-year box-office record for local productions in July with takings of HK$60.73 million, was reported to have been shot with an investment of HK$40 million. But the strong box-office take failed to translate into a profit for its makers, Universe International. Cinema chains usually share up to a half of total gross ticket revenue. Chairman and managing director Daniel Lam Shiu-ming said: 'I think the media has played up [our success].' The company generated a combined net box office of HK$14.07 million for all its output last year. Shaolin Soccer failed to open in mainland cinemas due to the Chinese Government's stringent controls on imported films. As part of the effort to boost the sector, the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority held a symposium on film financing last year to attempt to bridge the gap between film-makers and local bankers. But bankers said they were still risk-adverse towards film deals simply because of a lack of understanding of the industry. 'It is hard to work out a formula to measure the market potential . . . and the talented producers tend to overrun their budget,' a banker said. Woody Tsung Wan-chi, chief executive of the Motion Picture Industry Association, said: 'Despite Hong Kong's fame as the centre of Chinese movie production, there is a long way to go to reach to the Hollywood scale.'