The New Model Of Indie Film Finance, v2011.1, Foreign Value

Today continues my efforts to try to define the takeaway from the two most recent and robust US acquisition markets of Sundance & Toronto.  I (and hopefully we) will try to extrapolate from them where we are today.  How can we use our most recent experiences to determine the reality of our filmed dreams today?  How can we move to a more realistic model of indie film finance? Foreign estimates still set the initial value for films, and it is CAST that is the predominate determinator for this value.  Before a film is shot, there are three types of actors that mean something to foreign buyers:

  • 1) stars that have been in big hits in the relevant territories;
  • 2) stars that have been in popular television shows in those territories;
  • 3) stars that can be expected to generate a great deal of publicity everywhere.

Other than stars, there are a few other aspects of a film that create foreign value.  Stars are another entity altogether from cast or actors -- and it is really the stars that determine foreign value.

Are there any other factors that help shape what your project is determined to be worth overseas? Fortunately, yes!  The track record of the collaborators have impact on a distributor's willingness to consider a project.  Experienced directors and producers have more foreign value, provided they have made films that have fairly recently been well received, either commercially or critically.  Similarly, proven cinematographers, designers, editors, composers, and vfx supervisors can mean something.

When the foreign markets were more hungry for US product, it was partially due to their paid and free television's appetite for it.  Although that has been vastly diminished, if your film will fit well into foreign television programming, you have some security.  It is generally thought that comedies and "urban" (i.e. non-white) content doesn't travel.  Nonetheless I have had buyers get excited about an office place comedy precisely because they feel like television but aren't.  Similarly, as new niche channels develop, new audiences aggregate.  I still remain confident that as much as hip-hop transcended music to become a global lifestyle, "urban" programming can get some international  legs once it gets its foot in the door.

Every international territory struggles with the same challenges of expensive marketing.  When a project comes even with the hopes of decreasing some of those costs, buyers perk up. I have seen those results come both from aggregated audience action (i.e. twitter followers, facebook friends, and data lists) and transmedia builds.  Although there is not yet the model that can be used to demonstrate success, let alone predict it, these first efforts still increase the appetite for acquisition among buyers, and thus potentially also the value.

For there to be foreign value, you need to have the potential to sell.  The things that increase that potential also increase a film's foreign value.  At acquisition markets you see this phenomenon in full play as film's that appear to be headed to a subsequent (and more major) festival, get snapped up far more readily.

Tomorrow Friday, we will look at why a film might hope to get acquired in the USA and where else can funding come from in the states.