Filmmakers, It’s 2013. Do You Know Where Your Jobs Act Is? Part 3

Written by Michael R. Barnard

FILMMAKERS, IT’S 2013. DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR JOBS ACT IS?
Part 3 of 3 parts.
 
Yesterday, in Part 2, we learned that cash is available and that the JOBS Act is going to give filmmakers an opportunity to more easily access that cash for investment to make movies and rebuild the independent film industry.

The Internet enlarged the playing field for securities offerings, whether valid or not, and for potential investors, whether knowledgeable or not.

How do you legally and ethically access that hoarded cash and encourage its investment in your well-developed movie project so you can hire people and make your movie?

 

Easier access to that cash is the promise of the JOBS Act, which was the biggest bi-partisan effort of the past several years of hyper-partisanship. Support for the JOBS Act spanned both parties.

 

America needs good jobs, and some of those jobs need to come from the independent film industry. Joblessness and low-wage jobs have crippled the survival and prosperity of millions of Americans, and are a drag on our entire economy.

 

For you, the significance of the JOBS Act is not only the production of your movie, but also its potential to rebuild the infrastructure of the American independent film industry by structuring movie projects to show business as well as artistic realities.

 

The ability to reach out to investors means you will have to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your movie project, plan its production and distribution, and calculate reasonable possible returns. Your stronger, compelling plans and successful investor strategy will allow you to pay better wages, attract superior cast and crew, rent and purchase proper equipment, engage legal counsel and insurance, and make stronger efforts to engage audiences and deliver your movie to them. By opening access to that hoarded cash and other cash from investors, the JOBS Act can provide filmmakers with increased production quality and increased likelihood of a return on investment, which can increase the stability of the independent film industry in America. The process can increase the potential to deliver higher-quality movies to larger audiences.

 

There are two parts of the JOBS Act specifically attractive to independent filmmakers. They are Title II—ACCESS TO CAPITAL FOR JOB CREATORS, commonly referred to as “the General Solicitation Rule,” and Title III—CROWDFUND. These offer the promise to improve filmmakers’ ability to raise money for development, production, marketing, and distribution of their movies.

 

Some filmmakers are lucky enough to raise money for their movies through family and friends, angel investors, venture capitalists, or other ways of private funding. Most filmmakers are not so fortunate.

 

Many filmmakers turn to crowdfunding, whether perks-based donor crowdfunding or the forthcoming Equity Crowdfunding. That’s a good path for filmmakers whose social circle is pretty normal, and you will benefit from Title III—CROWDFUND of the JOBS Act.

 

Are you fortunate enough to have millionaires in your social circle? The change to the fundraising process, opening it up for general solicitation, will be the benefit for you from TITLE II—ACCESS TO CAPITAL FOR JOB CREATORS of the JOBS Act.

 

TITLE II—ACCESS TO CAPITAL FOR JOB CREATORS

 

TITLE II is popularly referred to as the “General Solicitation” rule. It will change some of the exemptions from the most strenuous rules; these exemptions, which are still very strict, are commonly referred to by investment professionals as “Sec. 506, Reg. D”. The rules that allow exemptions from some of the harshest regulations still include prohibitions against you, or any person acting on your behalf, offering or selling securities through any form of “general solicitation or general advertising.”

 

Most of those posts long ago on Friendster and MySpace and those ads printed in magazines and newspapers by filmmakers telling people to invest in their films and promising the investors profits have always been illegal. Examples of general solicitation include advertisements published in newspapers and magazines, communications broadcast over television and radio, and seminars whose attendees have been invited by general solicitation, as well as other uses of publicly available media, such as unrestricted websites and social media.

 

The big news is that TITLE II is going to let you promote your movie project to everybody you can reach. The only restrictions will be, simply, that you can only sell your securities to Accredited Investors – but you can now find those Accredited Investors by publicly announcing your movie project.
The JOBS Act instructs the SEC to make rules to stop the prohibition against general solicitation and to give you reasonable steps to verify that those who invest in your movie are truly Accredited Investors as defined by law.

 

You will not be able accept investment money from anyone who can’t prove they are Accredited Investors. The Act says you will not be subject to requirements to be a registered broker or dealer because of maintaining and advertising online or on other platforms your offer, sale, or negotiation of an investment in your movie. Under the general solicitation rules for your Sec. 506 of Reg. D offering, there might be no other reporting requirements other than, probably, the basic Form D now required by such offerings (see http://www.sec.gov/answers/formd.htm). It is likely the SEC will modify the Form D only to acknowledge that your offering is being made under TITLE II of the JOBS Act.

 

The JOBS Act established a deadline of Wednesday, July 4, 2012, for the SEC to promulgate rules and regulations for the implementation of TITLE II—ACCESS TO CAPITAL FOR JOB CREATORS. The SEC missed that deadline. The agency did publish proposed rules for TITLE II on August 29, 2012 (see http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2012/2012-170.htm) but has not implemented them. Although the SEC has missed the deadline required by the Act, and used a process a little bit out of the ordinary regarding its usual schedule of receiving public comments and publishing proposals, the SEC believes they are working prudently within the complex requirements of implementing the JOBS Act. There is not yet an anticipated date for finalizing the rules for Title II of the JOBS Act. It continues to accept public comments regarding TITLE II.

 

TITLE III—CROWDFUND

 

Title III—CROWDFUND of the JOBS Act, twisted into an acronym of that tortured construct, “Capital Raising Online While Deterring Fraud and Unethical Non-Disclosure,” relieves filmmakers of many of the burdens of raising equity investment for movie projects. The goals of the Act appear to allow a filmmaker (or any entrepreneur) to offer securities to any American for up to a maximum of $1 million in any 12-month period for all of the entities controlled by the filmmaker using the process similar to perks-based donor crowdfunding

 

It appears the filmmaker’s offering of securities must be made only through a registered securities broker or through a newly-described “Funding Portal” registered with the SEC. Funding Portals are intermediaries that might be similar to the existing crowdfunding sites, and will be responsible for educating the public about investing, protecting the public from fraud, vetting the people offering the securities, distributing to the SEC and potential investors any information about the securities, and holding in escrow all proceeds prior to reaching the offering amount. Funding Portals will also protect the privacy of investors and cannot purchase from any finders or brokers any personal information about potential investors. Filmmakers will not be allowed to be officers, partners, or directors in the Funding Portal servicing their projects.

 

In order to offer equity shares in their project, it appears filmmakers will need to provide some form of a Business Plan and Financial Projection, which was common before the collapse of the independent film industry, that includes the purpose for the offering and the target offering amount and its deadline, as well as the description of the ownership and capital structure of the issuer. The Business Plan and Financial Projection will likely include the name, legal status, physical address, and website address of the issuer; the names of the directors and officers and anyone with more than 20 percent of the shares of the issuer. A description of the financial condition of the issuer including all other offerings of the issuer within the preceding 12-month period is also required. The filmmaker will need to make regular updates about progress meeting the target offering amount. There will be rules about describing the price, value, terms and class of the securities offered. Annual reports will be required.

 

WHO CAN INVEST, AND HOW MUCH?

 

Once the new SEC regulations are in place, you likely will be allowed to approach anyone via any method of communication, describing your well-developed movie project, as long as you only send them to the Funding Portal or broker handling your movie project. If you pay someone to bring people to your project at your broker or Funding Portal, you will be required to declare publicly that you pay the person to do so.

 

It appears there will be no limit to the Americans you can approach, but their participation will have limits. Expect that those potential investors whose annual income or net worth is less than $100,000 will be allowed to invest up to 5 percent of their annual income or net worth, capped at a maximum of $2,000. Anyone with an annual income or net worth of more than $100,000 will be allowed to invest up to 10 percent of their annual income or net worth, capped at a maximum of $100,000. These maximums will apply to all of the investments made by the individual to all issuers – not just you – in any 12-month period.

 

It is attractive to filmmakers to be able to raise up to $1 million per year in equity investment. This fits into a common timetable for making movies; the first year’s fundraising could support development, production, and post-production, and the second year’s fundraising could support marketing and distribution, effectively allowing filmmakers to raise up to $2 million for your movie.

 

The investment securities in your movie will be barely, if at all, liquid. Your investors will likely not be allowed to resell their securities for a period of 12 months except to people such as accredited investors and family members, or through a complex registered public offering in the unlikely case that you were to develop one.

 

The issue of Funding Portals has become very complex. It originally appeared that the JOBS Act would allow a proliferation of new businesses to serve as Funding Portals. However, complex and contradictory parts of the Act now appear to make it illegal for Funding Portals to earn a profit unless they are functions of registered Broker-Dealers. The possibility of non-profit organizations setting up Funding Portals has not yet been addressed by the SEC. The process of becoming a registered Broker-Dealer could take probably more than six months and cost probably more than $25,000. For the SEC’s information about the process, see http://www.sec.gov/divisions/marketreg/bdguide.htm

 

“You’re dealing with other people’s money, there is an obligation of financial and fiduciary duty to the investors,” says Bob Thibodeau of Crowdfund Capital Markets (see www.linkedin.com/pub/bob-thibodeau/3/849/b4a), a service company providing backend and clearinghouse functions for equity crowdfunding operations.

 

“Orderly, transparent, liquid markets are good for everybody,” continues Thibodeau. “The processes, the technology, the understanding of regulatory environments is much more conducive to orderly markets than everybody learning something all at once, which is chaos, which is where crowdfunding is right now.”

 

The SEC is working with The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) (see http://finra.org), the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the United States, on rules for funding portals, and FINRA has a voluntary Interim Form for prospective Funding Portals. Once the SEC and FINRA have adopted funding portal rules, they then need to promulgate the rules that will apply to those who need to use Equity Crowdfunding to fund their businesses.

 

“Investors soon can expect to be inundated with crowdfunding pitches, legitimate or otherwise,” said Heath Abshure, President of North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) (see http://www.nasaa.org/about-us/nasaa-board-of-directors/), the oldest international organization devoted to investor protection.

 

An analysis of Internet domain names found nearly 8,800 domains with “crowdfunding” in their name at the end of the year, up from less than 900 at the beginning of the year.

 

Fraud concerns run high in certain circles of the professional investment community. However, the openness and transparency of the Internet, according to crowdfunding experts, serves to thwart fraud.

 

Slava Rubin of popular perks-based donor crowdfunding site Indiegogo (see www.linkedin.com/in/indieslava/), and very active in the process of crafting the Equity Crowdfunding part of the JOBS ACT, says “Indiegogo’s 5,000 campaigns are proven case studies to predict that there is no significant worry about fraud. The fraud rate in our case studies has been about 1 percent.” He notes that when e-commerce was new on the Internet, people also predicted huge increases in fraud. However, eBay and Amazon proved that online fraud risk is no greater than every other risk we face every day.

 

According to the report “How the Crowd Detects Fraud” (see http://www.crowdfundcapitaladvisors.com/resources/26-resources/120-crowd-detects-fraud.html ), “This is the new crowdsourced diligence paradigm.” The crowd itself effectively polices against fraud.

 

PERKS-BASED DONOR CROWDFUNDING AND EQUITY CROWDFUNDING WILL CO-EXIST. 

 

Perks-based donor crowdfunding and Equity Crowdfunding each has its own process and participants. It is likely perks-based donor crowdfunding will be more focused on funding for personal, artistic movies, while Equity Crowdfunding will be focused on movies with commercial appeal.

 

Kickstarter is not going to get involved in Equity Crowdfunding because its mission was never profit-oriented over artist-oriented. It launched in 2009 after an original idea in 2001 to fund creative projects that would probably not be profitable, but that were good ideas that people want to see come to life.
For instance, last year Charlie Kaufman, Dan Harmon, Ira Sachs, David Fincher, Bret Easton Ellis and Paul Schrader all turned to Kickstarter to invite fans to participate in their personal creations.

 

Equity Crowdfunding will be a different experience, and for different backers, than perks-based donor crowdfunding.

 

The JOBS Act established a deadline of Monday, December 31, 2012 for the SEC to promulgate rules and regulations for the implementation of TITLE III—CROWDFUND. The SEC missed the deadline, and has no anticipated date for the rulemaking to implement TITLE III. The SEC has not published any proposed rules for TITLE III and continues to accept public comments regarding TITLE III.

 

When the SEC is engaged in rulemaking, they typically want to hear from the public and will say very little beyond what is proposed.

 

Part of the reason for delays in rulemaking may be the change in leadership at the SEC. On December 14, 2012, Chairman Mary Schapiro left the agency, and President Obama appointed Elisse Walter as her successor. See http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2012/2012-240.htm and http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/11/26/statement-president-obama-departure-sec-chairman-mary-schapiro

 

Although the SEC has made few announcements about the JOBS Act and its rulemaking, former Chairman Schapiro spoke about it in her opening remarks at the SEC Open Meeting on August 29,2012 (see http://www.sec.gov/news/speech/2012/spch082912mls.htm) and current Chairman Walter gave her “Opening Remarks Regarding the Proposal of Rules Eliminating the Prohibition against General Solicitation and General Advertising in Rule 506 and Rule 144A Offerings” at that same meeting (see http://www.sec.gov/news/speech/2012/spch082912ebw.htm)

 

When it wends its way through the SEC rulemaking processes, the JOBS Act will be a powerful tool that will give filmmakers something they have desired for decades: easier access to investors for their movies.

You face the opportunity to have a significant impact on the future of America’s independent film industry.

 
You can immediately participate in the process to make sure the JOBS Act supports the needs of America’s independent film industry. The SEC wants to hear from you at http://www.sec.gov/spotlight/jobsactcomments.shtml
 
As a filmmaker, you can tell the SEC that it’s important to you to be able to have access to investment capital in order to make your movies and to rebuild the independent film industry.
 

Michael R. Barnard is a writer and filmmaker who has been researching the American JOBS Act since it was first proposed. Barnard is currently working on creating an independent feature film, A FATHER AND SON (http://AFatherAndSon.wordpress.com). Barnard lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of the historical novel NATE AND KELLY. You can reach Barnard on Twitter at @mrbarnard1 and on Facebook at michael.barnard.

 

This article is an overview and observation, not legal advice.

Filmmakers, It’s 2013. Do You Know Where Your Jobs Act Is? Part 2

Written by Michael R. Barnard FILMMAKERS, IT’S 2013. DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR JOBS ACT IS?

Part 2 of 3 parts.

Yesterday, in Part 1, we looked at the general state of affairs for raising money from investors for your movie, and introduced the JOBS Act for its potential to help rebuild the independent film industry in America.
Offering securities for your film is tightly restricted and regulated by the SEC. For every rule of the SEC that you ignore, your disgruntled investor’s attorneys will accuse you of fraud and deception and other wrongdoing. They will win, and collect good sums of money for their clients.
“If somebody loses their money in a film investment,” says Jeff Steele of Film Closings, “Nine out of ten times, they’re going to sue the producer. That’s how the world works. The difference between being sued by ma and pa investors or Accredited Investors is that Accredited Investors have better lawyers.”

For the definition of “Accredited Investors,” see http://www.sec.gov/info/smallbus/secg/accredited-investor-net-worth-standard-secg.htm

In simple terms – explanations that are more complex require attorneys – the process to raise money for your movie by legally offering securities is referred to generally as a “Private Placement Memorandum,” which usually costs about $15,000 or more in time and fees.

When you have your expensive PPM, what can you do with it?

Under Rule 506 of Regulation D, you can only show your expensive PPM to, simply put, millionaires. This audience, legally known as “Accredited Investors,” is allowed because of the presumption that people with lots of money can’t get destroyed by a single bad investment, and are smart enough to properly evaluate the realistic potential for any investment.

 

According to attorney Dan DeWolf, attorney with the New York law firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo (see http://www.martindale.com/Daniel-I-DeWolf/499422-lawyer.htm), “As a matter of public policy, the courts really do not want to get involved in investments with someone where, if it was disclosed it was a risky investment, and they are wealthy, and they can afford good counsel. If they have a million dollars net worth and they’re making these types of investments, they can afford to pay counsel or their accountant to look this up. The courts really don’t want to interfere in this type of capital formation.”

 

The definition of “Accredited Investor” is very specific, and was updated in 2011 to exclude the value of one’s home because of the destructive volatility of the mortgage crisis. It includes those with a net worth, or joint net worth with the person’s spouse, that exceeds $1 million at the time of the purchase, excluding the value of their primary residence, or those with income exceeding $200,000, or $300,000 with the spouse, in each of the past two years and the reasonable expectation of the same income level in the current year. (See the description of Accredited Investor here: http://www.sec.gov/info/smallbus/secg/accredited-investor-net-worth-standard-secg.htm)

 

“What the courts don’t want, and the SEC doesn’t want,” continues DeWolf, “is people preying on widows, orphans, and others where these types of high-risk investments are totally inappropriate. That is why they limit it to only Accredited Investors, because they can bear the risk.”

 

It’s a closed community. Only after you find an Accredited Investor can you then pitch your expensive PPM. Generally speaking, you cannot legally let anyone other than Accredited Investors have access to your project for evaluation (there is an allowance for those with prior relationships, but that is not in the scope of Title II of the JOBS Act), nor can you allow anyone other than accredited investors to invest in your project.

 

These facts commonly frustrate new filmmakers.

 

Of course, the spirit of artistry and story-telling still burned under the collapse caused by the Great Recession. Filmmaking never died. Even in the worst times of the Great Recession, when distributors, hedge funds, foreign presales, and bank credit started to disappear, filmmaking found support. Even with the tremendous downward pressure on budgets for production and distribution, filmmakers continued to strive to make movies.

 

At the same time, audiences clamored to help the arts of filmmaking. The spark of creativity was nurtured by a new process of perks-based donor crowdfunding to fund filmmaking.

 

The process is like an egalitarian version of the ages-old concept of “patron of the arts,” when wealthy benefactors provided money to support their favorite artists for the sake of the art.

 

With today’s perks-based donor crowdfunding, filmmakers, instead of seeking equity investment in their movie project from a few people in exchange for profit participation, simply ask everyone for outright contributions, usually offering perquisites as a return gift. There is no equity participation; this means that none of the donors will receive any ownership in the movie project. Supporters give money to filmmakers solely for the sake of helping get the movie made. They cannot receive any possible profit. They usually cannot even receive a tax deduction, since perks-based donor crowdfunding is rarely set up for qualified donations to registered non-profit organizations, such as 501c3 entities.

 

It works.

 

“Any resource that allows artist and audience to link directly and strategically is a great thing,” said Sean McManus (see http://www.filmindependent.org/sean-mcmanus/)about crowdfunding. McManus is co-president of Film Independent, the largest organization serving independent filmmakers in America. He added, “They crowdfund pre-production, production, post-production, and even festival runs and distribution.”

 

“Crowdfunding also enables filmmakers to develop direct contact with potential viewers once the film is available,” added Josh Welsh (see http://www.filmindependent.org/josh-welsh-co-president/), also co-president of Film Independent.

 

Perks-based donor crowdfunding is probably just as hit-or-miss as seeking equity investment. Many projects launched on crowdfunding sites fail to reach their goals. However, Kickstarter, the biggest player in the field of crowdfunding sites, rightfully brags about some fascinating and exciting results on their blog at http://www.kickstarter.com/blog/100-million-pledged-to-independent-film. Kickstarter alone has brought together nearly 900,000 people who supported independent filmmakers, pledging more than $100 million to features, documentaries, shorts, web-series, and other film and video projects over the past three years. Rentrak, which tracks such things, reports that almost one hundred Kickstarter-funded films were in more than 1,500 North American theaters, and another dozen or more have theatrical premieres slated for 2013.

 

There are many crowdfunding sites; another popular crowdfunding site for filmmakers is Indiegogo and a newer one is CrowdZu.

 

The term “crowdfunding” refers to a subset of the term “crowdsourcing,” a recent term to describe the use of social media, primarily, to obtain information and maybe even consensus from the crowd of people accessible by one’s online and offline social circles (see http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/crowdsourcing). “Crowdfunding” is the process of using crowdsourcing for the specific purpose of raising funds. Curiously, the most popular crowdfunding site, Kickstarter, does not use the term “crowdfunding.” It calls itself, simply, an online funding platform. Considering the U.S. Government’s definition in Title III of the JOBS Act of “CROWDFUND” as an acronym of the contorted “Capital Raising Online While Deterring Fraud and Unethical Non-Disclosure,” it’s easy to side with Kickstarter’s dislike of the term.

 

Some investment professionals are only aware of the term in the context of the forthcoming Equity Crowdfunding, which is not yet legal, as well as some closed-to-the-public investing sites that now exist, and they might express confusion or concern when people talk about “crowdfunding” as it is popularly used today.

 

This confusion is likely to grow when perks-based donor crowdfunding and Equity Crowdfunding both become fundraising tools for filmmakers and other entrepreneurs.

 

Perks-based donor crowdfunding has been legal and immensely popular. Public use of “Equity Crowdfunding” under the JOBS Act has not yet been implemented and is still illegal. Existing closed-to-the-public equity investing sites are limited to only Accredited Investors.

 

DOWNWARD PRESSURE ON BUDGETS

 

The perks-based donor crowdfunding efforts that are successful commonly provide only a bare minimum amount of funding for making a movie. In an industry where ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ and being ingenious in cheap ways to create movie magic has always been the lifeblood of making movies, there is now a new lower threshold as many crowdfunded projects raise barely enough money to pay for extremely reduced expenses. Although it’s now the assumed reality for our new generation of filmmakers, this new lower threshold often results in shorter production schedules, lower or non-existent wages, fewer cast and crew, no rental of equipment to increase production value, avoidance of location fees and even insurance, presuming ‘word-of-mouth’ instead of crafting a marketing budget, and other critically minimized expenses. The Great Recession’s downward pressure on budgets that had already been small has hindered the infrastructure of the independent film industry in America, making competitive production value, consistency, opportunity and livelihood difficult. This is particularly unusual, given the tremendous growth in the quantity of independent movies being made. For instance, more than 2,000 feature films made in America were submitted to the Sundance Film Festival 2013.

 

“There is now a strata of filmmaking where they get their fifty grand and do whatever they can possibly do with it,” says Richard Abramowitz of Abramorama.

 

In the modern independent film industry in America, Ted Hope of the San Francisco Film Society considers three levels of independent feature film budgets: about $20 to $25 million, which might be considered as Oscar-worthy films; about $3 million for independent films that attract a lead actor who had a significant role in prior feature films grossing in the range of $100 million; or, otherwise, budgets of about $500,000 or less.

 

“That breakdown is a simplification made for the sake of clarity,” says Hope.

 

Several industry experts agree that a filmmaker can now craft a feature-length movie for a production budget under $1 million that is competitive in theatrical production values.

 

“Absolutely,” says Abramowitz.

 

“1,000 percent agree,” says Hope, and adds, “It’s been a long time since we had a ‘Napoleon Dynamite.’ On the other hand, Oscar-nominated ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ is only marginally above that $1 million figure and is nothing short on the theatrical production value, and well-positioned in the marketing, too.”

 

Regarding the downward pressure on production budgets, Steele adds, “I would say a $15 million film from a few years ago is now the $3 to $5 million film. The crunch brought the budgets down to where they should be.”

 

Stacey Parks of Film Specific (see http://www.filmspecific.com/public/department86.cfm), which works with filmmakers to properly package their film projects, frequently advises her clients to reduce their original budgets. “If you have started with a $5 million budget,” says Parks, “You’re really only going to make your film for probably no more than $2.5 million.”

 

There are new opportunities because of the ‘correction’ in filmmaking budgets. More can be done with less. The trick will be to rise out of poverty and rebuild the infrastructure of the independent film industry.

 

The new generation of filmmakers, and those filmmakers who can quickly adapt, face exciting opportunities for funding their movies.

 

THE MONEY IS OUT THERE. 

Yes, there is cash available for investing. Lots of cash.

 

Cash is being hoarded by the very wealthy and by your friends and family. The notorious mindset of “stuff the money in the mattress” eight decades ago, borne from the fears of the Great Depression and the fear of banks collapsing, returned again in the Great Recession.

 

Individual Americans have missed almost $200 billion of stock gains by hoarding cash rather than investing it (see Bloomberg’s “Americans Miss $200 Billion Abandoning Stocks” at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-24/americans-miss-200-billion-abandoning-stocks.html).

 

Corporations and institutions have done the same; trillions of dollars have been sitting idle instead of creating jobs and building business infrastructure (see NPR’s “Companies Sit On Cash; Reluctant To Invest, Hire” at http://www.npr.org/2011/08/17/139703989/companies-sit-on-cash-reluctant-to-invest-hire, Forbes’ “Super Rich Hide $21 Trillion Offshore, Study Says” at http://www.forbes.com/sites/frederickallen/2012/07/23/super-rich-hide-21-trillion-offshore-study-says/, and PolitiFacts.com’s “Obama says companies have nearly $2 trillion sitting on their balance sheets” at http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/feb/10/barack-obama/obama-says-companies-have-nearly-2-trillion-sittin/).

 

The FINANCIAL TIMES reports that equity funds have seen the strongest inflows in more than five years because of boosted investor confidence. Net inflows into equity funds monitored by EPFR, the data provider, hit $22.2 billion in the week of January 9, 2013 – the highest since September 2007 and the second highest since comparable data began in 1996. (See http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/195ed762-5bd7-11e2-bf31-00144feab49a.html)

 

“Access to capital is essential for success,” says Salute.

 

Tomorrow, in Part 3, we look at the JOBS Act’s provisions for specific opportunities to access that capital.

 

Michael R. Barnard is a writer and filmmaker who has been researching the American JOBS Act since it was first proposed. Barnard is currently working on creating an independent feature film, A FATHER AND SON (http://AFatherAndSon.wordpress.com). Barnard lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of the historical novel NATE AND KELLYYou can reach Barnard on Twitter at @mrbarnard1 and on Facebook at michael.barnard.

 

This article is an overview and observation, not legal advice.

Filmmakers, It’s 2013. Do You Know Where Your Jobs Act Is? Part 1

Written by Michael R. Barnard
FILMMAKERS, IT’S 2013. DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR JOBS ACT IS?
PART 1 of 3 parts
Young filmmakers today – those of you in your early to mid-twenties – entered filmmaking after the Great Recession and complications of rapid technological developments began to cripple the independent filmmaking industry in America. You entered the field just as the then-new perks-based donor crowdfunding function blossomed in the debris of crushed distribution companies, shrunken Minimum Guarantees, destroyed bank credit, and disappearance of most equity investment by hedge funds, institutions, and high-net-worth individuals. Those of us who are older are still smarting from the destruction, still aware of the way things had been.
The independent film industry in America shows signs of poverty, with many independent filmmakers living lives of ‘the starving artist,’ and jobs within the industry seem to be rare. Rarer still are consistent jobs that pay a living wage.
President Obama signed into law the American JOBS Act last spring. Called the “Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act,” its purpose is to help Americans who have good, sound business projects to attract cash from investors more easily. Businesses create jobs and hire people, and America needs that. The independent film industry in America needs that.
President Obama said, “We are a nation of doers. We think big. We take risks. This is a country that’s always been on the cutting edge. The reason is, America has always had the most daring entrepreneurs. When their businesses take off, more people get employed.”
By amending the Securities Act of 1933, the JOBS Act should make it easier for indie filmmakers to raise money so they can create jobs and help rebuild the American economy. It can have a profound impact on the independent filmmaking industry.
The biggest bi-partisan effort of the past several years of hyper-partisanship was the creation of the American JOBS Act. Support for the JOBS Act spanned both parties, the President, and even anti-tax organizations known for being at odds with the President. It is designed to turn hoarded cash into investment in companies so they can create paid jobs and build infrastructure. Read the JOBS Act here: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-112hr3606enr/pdf/BILLS-112hr3606enr.pdf and for the summary, see http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:HR03606:@@@L&summ2=m&
Filmmakers, here are details of why we need the JOBS Act, how it will help filmmakers, and the status of the JOBS Act today.
THE WAY THINGS USED TO BE
Earlier generations of young filmmakers were often surprised to discover that their public pleas for money to make their movies ran afoul of federal SEC regulations that control offerings of securities, rules that demand rigorous registration under equity investment laws.
“Securities? Equity? Registration? SEC? What are those things,” asked the new filmmakers from previous generations. “I just want to make a movie.”
The young filmmakers who came before you were shocked to discover they could not just tell everybody on Friendster and MySpace, or through ads in printed newspapers and magazines, that they wanted investors to pour money into their movie project in return for great profits later.
This was the first thing filmmakers learned after they finished writing their script: raising money can be very illegal.
Here’s why:
THE GREAT DEPRESSION
Eight decades prior to the Great Recession, we faced the Great Depression, which started in 1929. Times were worse because there were few protections or “safety nets” for citizens. When huge numbers of American citizens lost all their money after the crash of crazy, outrageous investment schemes and scams, they really lost everything, ending up on the street, eating in charity soup kitchens, and begging.
The economic destruction to America was so great that the country created severe, restrictive rules to prevent it from ever happening again. Those rules included the Securities Act of 1933 and the Exchange Act of 1934 to protect citizens from shrewd, myopic, or criminal people who had persuasive high-power pitches for getting citizens to invest money in their projects, whether real or imaginary.
America needs investment; that’s what made this country great. It does not need more economic destruction from poorly thought out or deliberately deceptive projects.
The rules and regulations still control investment in America.
They are implemented and overseen by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). All of the SEC laws, rules, forms and regulations associated with the Securities Act of 1933 and Exchange Act of 1934 are on the SEC’s site at http://www.SEC.gov/divisions/corpfin/cfrules.shtml The big news from last year was the American JOBS Act, signed into law by President Obama on April 5, 2012, which offers some changes to ease this process of investing in America. The goal is to create jobs.
“This is what is going to be the solution for job creation in this country,” says Richard Salute of Cohn Reznick Accounting in New York (see http://www.cohnreznick.com/richard-j-salute), “And, that’s what will keep us in the forefront of developed nations. Access to capital is essential for success.”
The JOBS Act provides filmmakers with tools to rebuild the independent filmmaking industry in America (see “President Obama Signs JOBS ACT; Its Equity Crowdfunding May Rebuild Indie Film Biz” at https://michaelrbarnard.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/presdient-obama-signs-jobs-act-its-equity-crowdfunding-may-rebuild-indie-film-biz/)
THE GREAT RECESSION
The economic destruction of the Great Recession that struck in 2008, just as our new generation of filmmakers came on the scene, affected the independent film industry in America as harshly as other industries, maybe even more harshly than many industries.
“The industry kind of imploded five or six years ago when Fine Line, New Line, Paramount Classics and a few other smaller companies disappeared,” says Richard Abramowitz of consulting firm Abramorama (see http://pro.imdb.com/name/nm0009150/), which specializes in production, marketing, distribution and representation of indie movies. “There was certainly a dip there when the economy tanked.”
“There has definitely been a hit. We’ve seen a downward trend, especially in New York City,” says Mike Nichols, East Coast Rental Manager of AbelCine (see http://abelcine.com), a long-established national equipment rental house. “In 2008, I was bidding on equipment packages for about three dozen indie films. In 2009, that dropped to less than a dozen.”
“I think the independent filmmaking biz got was coming to it, it got corrected, just like housing,” says Jeff Steele of Film Closings (see http://filmclosings.com/), a strategic advisor and film finance veteran specializing in structured-financing for film. “It had attracted a ridiculous amount of hedge fund money out of Wall Street in 2006 to 2008 when I worked for a $300 million fund where we had done thirty films in two years. It was a time when finance plans were looking for films, rather than the other way around. Then the credit crunch hit in 2008, and all of the foreign buyers had their credit lines dry up, so they couldn’t acquire any more films. There was suddenly a surplus of films, films made for $10, $20, $30, even $40 million independent films ended up going straight to video because they had nowhere else to go. It forced filmmakers to drastically reduce their budgets.”
According to prolific indie producer Ted Hope, with more than five dozen prominent indie films across the history of the current independent film culture to his credit, “The real issue right now is the artists and the people that support them are not benefiting from their work, and it just can’t be done. I’ve watched six years of my own personal earnings keep going down each year. I’m not making a living producing the movies. And the system as it’s set up right now does not benefit artists or those that support them.”
Almost to prove his point, Hope has stepped away from producing and is now the Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society in California.
“I produced close to 70 films, and I know in my heart that movies like The Ice Storm, 21 Grams, American Splendor, Happiness, or In The Bedroom would not get made today,” says Hope.
THIS IS EQUITY
New filmmakers are often surprised to find out (usually from friends, but sometimes more harshly from Federal authorities) that it is illegal to randomly offer securities to the public to raise money to make their movies. Their first reaction is to try to find a way around the term “securities,” only to learn that a security is pretty much any offer of a potential return in the future for any cash investment made now. See “security” at http://www.investorwords.com/4446/security.html
Young filmmakers often argue that the SEC could not possibly be interested in pursuing and prosecuting their own small, insignificant movie project.
Correct. Sort of.
Your worry is not the SEC; your worry is your investor. While the SEC may never notice your movie project, the people who invest in your movie are paying a lot of attention to it, and America is full of investors who become disillusioned and disgruntled about the difference between what they feel they were promised, and what they feel they really ended up with. Those are the people who will sue you, and they win by relying on the rules and regulations of the SEC that you ignored.
Offering securities for your film is tightly restricted and regulated. Even under what are known as “Reg. D exemptions,” there are still many expensive regulations to keep you from investors’ money.
Those problems often boil down to enthusiastic, over-confident filmmakers overstating the potential of their movies. You need to be confident to get a movie made, but when you pitch investors, you must include the realities of the risks. Not only is that the ethical course to take, it is also the course that will help you protect yourself.
Tomorrow, in Part 2, we will look into the legal ways to raise money for your movie.
Michael R. Barnard is a writer and filmmaker who has been researching the American JOBS Act since it was first proposed. Barnard is currently working on creating an independent feature film, A FATHER AND SON (http://AFatherAndSon.wordpress.com). Barnard lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is the author of the historical novel NATE AND KELLYYou can reach Barnard on Twitter at @mrbarnard1 and on Facebook at michael.barnard.

This article is an overview and observation, not legal advice.

STAY TUNED FOR TOMORROW'S INSTALLMENT ON THIS CRITICAL ISSUE!

The Really Good Things In The Indie Film Biz 2012

Last year I wrote out 15 really good things about the indie film biz (2011). My first instincts at looking at the list, are that the 15 from last year are still in process this year. Maybe I was a bit ahead of the curve.  Maybe I should hold this post until 2013.  But I don't think so -- we have much to celebrate this year too.

So what are the new developments that are now taking hold?  Unfortunately, my mind hasn't found the answers as quickly as others have (and here too) even if I do consider myself quite the optimist.  Okay, make that a pessmistic optimist, but an optimist nonetheless.  I have struggled to hit the same number as last year, but I did it, and even exceeded it -- and hopefully you'll continue to fill in the list with what I forgot.

  1. Direct distribution is really working.  We did it on DARK HORSE.  They are also doing it on I AM NOT A HIPSTER (opening January 15 nationwide). The list on the doc side is pretty huge: Stacy Perata and team did it on BONES BRIGADE.  Jeff Orlowski is doing it on CHASING ICE. As INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE: THE CASE STUDY ( http://bit.ly/105pigj) shows, they did it there too.  Add Eugene Jarecki and THE HOUSE I LIVE IN team to the list too.
  2. Hollywood is taking more creative risks.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/movies/films-dispense-with-storytelling-conventions.html  As Ben Affleck noted about this year in film, ", “movies that involve taking risks by the filmmakers and the financiers have been successful."
  3. The film industry is moving towards proportional gender representation in front of and behind the camera.  The NY Times did a good job of pointing the work women are doing done in front of the camera, and that Hollywood is doing producing tales of female heroines.  Additionally, Indieland -- the traditional leader of the cultural space -- has for the first time, shown some balance behind the camera too.  Sundance has an equal number of female directors as men in the narrative competition.  That shouldn't be a surprise, but it has taken us a long time to get here, and we do need to address why there are not more women in power in the entertainment business.
  4. There is an appetite for acquisition from the distributors.  73 titles were acquired at Sundance in 2012. The question of whether they were acquired for a fair price may not unfortunately be part of the general discussion, but at least there was the option of licensing your work again this year.  And I will bring up the lack of a fair price in my upcoming "The Things That Really Sucked In The Indie Film Biz 2012".  Stay tuned...
  5. Worldwide, the industry is asking questions if there is a better way.  Just recently I was invited to Paris and Austin to discuss different perspectives on how we can serve audiences better and improve the business.  This is not the same as launching initiatives, but it is a start.  Last year, I mentioned that the conversation on the Future Of Film took off, but this year it seems to be on a global basis.
  6. Technology is confronting the problem of our transition from an entertainment economy based on scarcity and control of content, to one recognizing the abundance of, total access to, and full distraction from that content.  We have launched an app that does this well.  And we have a good number of competitors in the space.  Readers of this blog have been following the weekly peek into the start-up KinoNation that Roger Jackson has been chronicling -- another example of technology coming to the rescue (hopefully).  And we have media innovation incubator/accelerators starting to blossom.
  7. There has never been a better time to both preserve and advance the film culture I dearly love.  That's why I chose to change my life and focus not on project producing but on producing infrastructure and change.  I am not going to be able to do it alone, but working with the support of the organization that launched the oldest running film festival, should hopefully prove far more fruitful than from proclaiming on high from my private soap box.
  8. New financing options are both here and on the horizon for independent & documentary film.  We've witnessed the launch of Slated and seen films get funded as a result.  Britdoc's impressive GoodPitch funding forum has funneled and support to doc projects and inspired many in the process.  How awesome is that?  Further, we now are seeing other evidence of a second generation of funding mechanisms, as entities like Seed & Spark are combining crowdfunding elements with distribution, marketing, and audience aggregation aspects.  If that was not enough for you, additionally the JOBS Act was passed in the USA, allowing for equity-based crowdfunding for films of under $1M.  We now can give people backend on the films they fund.  There remains a lot to work out on the legal side, but here's hoping that it is used both well and for good.
  9. Transactional VOD Players hit the flashpoint.  VHX.tv, Vimeo PPV, Dynamo player, and many more.  Whether you want an aggregator or prefer to sell on your own, it is easy and painless to do now.  Just ask Louis C.K.
  10. We have our first VOD Superstar. You want big numbers on VOD?  Just cast Kirsten Dunst.  Bachelorette.  Melancholia.  All Good Things.  She's beautiful.  She's a good actor.  She's fascinating to watch.  She's funny.  She's scary.  And she doesn't have too many letters in her name, but just enough to stand out.  Hell, if Elizabethtown premiered on Ultra VOD today, it would set records.  Okay, this isn't really the GOOD thing but just an aspect of a Good Thing.  The Good Thing is that VOD is becoming more marketable and people are not treating as a lesser product.  Once all media outlets start covering VOD premieres that will be an Awesome thing.
  11. Tech and film are talking to each other.  Soon they may even speak the same language.  Film Independent held a hackathon.  Marc Schiller did on the same day on the opposite coast. BAVC Producer University put filmmakers together with tech folks, and in less than a week new apps were born. And not only are they talking, they are getting in bed together -- okay maybe not film yet but media & tech are sleeping together.
  12. The dominance of the feature film form is starting to wain.  Whether it is great webisodes, a tremendous number of wonderful shorts, transmedia experiments, or just cross-platform experiments,  cinema is evolving beyond it's historic constraints.Okay, I did say this one last year, but I still feel it starting to happen.  I can put things on this list two years in a row can't I?  And then I will put it on the negative on the 3rd year, if it hasn't happened yet.
  13. The two films that I helped produce this year, DARK HORSE and STARLET got great reviews in the New York Times.  They also got great reviews many other places too. I can only state this here as a personal positive though.  Stay tuned, as this exact same fact will also be on my "What sucked in 2012" list too.
  14. While I am on that double list tip, here's another that will repeat on tomorrows list of the big and the bad.  To quote A.O. Scott of the NY Times: "By the end of this year, The New York Times will have reviewed more than 800 movies, establishing 2012, at least by one measure, as a new benchmark in the annals of cinematic abundance."  From the point of view of the audience, right now this is a beautiful thing.  Conceptually speaking, we should be able to match audiences with the film that is most right for them.  Audiences don't have to compromise.  There are more better movies than ever before.  Unfortunately, we have to build an infrastructure to support this, but that is a rant for another day (like tomorrow).
  15. There is a lot of real & meaningful support for indie writers, directors, and producers working in the genres & realms traditionally supported by indie film support organizations.  When I look at the various labs that are run by Sundance, IFP, Film Independent, & Tribeca, or the the financial & other support provided by the San Francisco Film Society (ahem...), Cinereach, Austin Film Society and other entities I am very impressed.  Granted there is a specific type of movie that seems to most appeal to this sort of thing, but I am impressed at how many programs they are and the good work that they do.  It ain't easy and our culture -- at least a very specific part of it -- really depends on it.  I hope all of you support the organizations that support the culture you love.  Vote with your dollars for the culture you want.
  16. The online community that supports the effort to advance a sustainable culture where the artist & their supportors benefit by the work they create, works to both preserve and advance the vibrant & diverse work that ambitiously reaches further, is committed to transparency, openness, opportunity, & our communal well-being, and knows that it is a team that builds the future and thus gives back in so many ways including posting, commenting, pointing, liking, and financial contributions.  I know this as I am experiencing it daily.  Thank you.

Stay tuned for next week: The Really Bad Things In Indie Film 2012

Addition: I added to this list with a subsequent post.  If you want more reasons to celebrate, check this out.