Film Finance Overwhelm (pt.2)

Stacey Parks returns with a guest post -- and a sequel.

Because Film Finance Overwhelm (Part 1) was such a popular post, I decided to do a Part 2. And because many of the comments and emails I got came in the form of questions, I decided to make the format of this post in Q+A form. I think seeing the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions will clear things up for many of you.

As a refresher, the 4 Film Financing components I talked about in Part 1 – the ones that are working in today’s market to independently finance films outside of the studio system are as follows:

1. Tax Incentives
2. Partnering With Production Companies
3. Pre-Sales
4. Crowd Funding

So let’s move on to Q+A…shall we?

Q: What are the benefits from both sides of partnering with a Production Company or more experienced Producer?

A: The obvious benefit to the new or less-experience Producer is pretty obvious – you get to leverage someone else’s track record to get your film made. But what about the benefit to the other Producer (the bigger one)? The benefit to them is that you are bringing them a killer concept and/or killer script that they didn’t have before. In my own pitching experience I find that every single one of the Producers I speak to says they are always looking for the next killer project – and they don’t really care where it comes from! Enter YOU. One of the keys to this approach is that hopefully you can bring more to the table than just a script, for example some kind of unique expertise. What areas of expertise do you have that you can contribute? Do you have existing relationships with foreign distributors for instance? How about marketing expertise? Are you a producer who can qualify for international co-production funds because you have a European or Australian or New Zealand passport? Think along those lines of some unique contribution you can bring to the partnership.

Q: What does it take to make a Pre-Sale when you don’t have the typical ‘package’?

A: It’s a fact that the majority of Pre-Sales these days are done on ‘packages’ – meaning a script with Director and Cast attachments. So what if you have an atypical package meaning not a name director or big international stars? Well I’ll tell you… I’ve seen this past year a few projects be successful at Pre-Sales by attaching the right Producer or Executive Producer. Yes, Producer and EP are also part of your package! Mind you these projects were also very commercial concepts, and not in the art-house/drama genre. Which brings up something else – sometimes, and I mean only sometimes, if your concept is so strong and commercial, you can mange a Pre-Sale or two ONLY based on that, even without having a big director or stars attached. In those cases what happens is who ever is buying from you, may insist on attaching an experienced ‘name’ themselves, so they can increase their level of trust and mitigate their risk.

Q: Aren’t the administrative costs extremely high when closing a tax finance deal?

A: Yes, actually they are. They can be anywhere from 15% to 25% of your budget by the time to take into account the discounting that banks do, legal, financing fees, interest, etc. For this reason, it usually only makes sense to take advantage of tax incentive deals when your budget is $2 million or more (and some say $5 million or more). Because tax deals can be expensive to administer many Producers prefer to finance with equity rather than tax incentives, but equity isn’t always available, and unless you are experienced with a track record, can be difficult to secure. Obviously the higher the budget of your film, the more tax incentives make sense for your production – for example when you start getting into the $5-$10 million budget range the numbers starting adding up even better. Having said that, I personally think it’s always worthwhile to look into the option of shooting in places that offer favorable tax incentives, and run the numbers to see how everything pencils out. I know Producers who have resisted this for a long time, and have finally given in because not taking advantage of 20%-40% in rebates is considered simply irresponsible at this point.

Q: What percentage of budget can you actually raise with Crowd Funding?

A: Certainly I’m seeing people raise 100% of their budgets doing crowd funding campaigns, especially with budgets of $200K and less. However in most cases, I think if you can raise 20%-25% of your budget with Crowd Funding then you can wrap a traditional financing structure around that. The thing to keep in mind with crowd funding is that you want to keep your campaign donation-based instead of investment-based, as anything investment-based can put you into legal grey area. Obviously sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are terrific platforms for running your Crowd Funding campaigns and the thing that I like best about raising money through crowd funding is that it can be a great way to raise development funds in the beginning, when you need things like a website and other presentation materials to get the ball rolling. By contrast, I’ve also seen Producers use crowd funding very successfully to raise finishing funds, because by then you actually have sample footage to show people, and there can be an increased level of trust that your film will actually be completed.

Q: What are the downsides to raising International Co-Production financing as opposed to International Pre-Sale financing?

A: International Co-Production financing is second nature to most European producers because that’s their ‘traditional’ financing model. Nowadays however, even American producers are getting in on the action and the two biggest downsides I see with seeking International Co-Production financing are 1) The amount of red tape it takes to apply for government film funds, and 2) the amount of time it takes to get a project off the ground when you’re relying on international co-production funds. With so many new ways of financing your film these days, even European producers are looking outside their traditional model of ‘free government money’ because it’s simply just so much more efficient to cobble together the financing in other ways (using the 4 components I talked about above + private investors). And yes, most U.S tax rebate programs are much more efficient than the European government funds – quicker to get approval on and quicker to get cash-flowed.

So there you have it — I’d love to keep answering questions so please if you have any more, place them in the comments section below!

And if you want to delve deeper into Film Financing 101, check out the Virtual Intensive I’m putting on after Thanksgiving!

In the – Film Financing 2.0 Essential Training - I’ll be covering these 4 components of financing in-depth over the course of a few weeks. Take a look at the details of this small group program, and grab a seat before it sells out. Join the movement to get your film financed for 2011!

Film Finance Overwhelm

Guest post from Film Specific's Stacey Parks.

As I’m unwinding from AFM last week, it occurs to me that while many of you are experiencing Distribution Overwhelm, even more of you are experiencing Finance Overwhelm. Why? Because unless you have 100% cash in bank to make your film, what can you do to get your project off the ground?

The way I see it is we’ve entered a time where ‘cobbling together’ different forms of film financing is necessary to make the whole. Sure, private equity (or cash) still plays a role in this new model, but there’s also other methods that need to be explored and implemented to finance your film

Case in point – many filmmakers today are using private equity or cash for development funds, tax incentives and pre-sales for production funds, and crowd funding for finishing funds. Is that too many financing components? Let me put it to you this way….

Ignore a diversified approach to film financing at your peril!

So how and where do you begin on this journey then to cobble together financing for your film? Let’s forget the private equity or cash component for a moment b/c that’s usually the hardest piece of the puzzle, and let’s focus on financing components we actually have more control over in order to create some initial momentum with your project:

Tax incentives – you’ve probably heard this before but if you’re not investigating locations to shoot your film that offer tax rebates and credits, you’re simply being irresponsible. Research both U.S and international states, countries, and provinces which offer attractive tax incentives for you to shoot your film there. Use the individual Film Commission offices as your starting point and they’ll walk you though the process and procedure, which in my experience are shockingly simple. Get budgets drawn up for shooting in different locations so you can compare where you’re able to make your film in the most economic way possible.

Partnering With Production Companies – This may not seem like an obvious choice at first but let’s just say this – if you don’t have a track record yourself, if you’re a first or second time producer, writer, or director and you want to fast track your production, you should consider partnering with a more experienced Producer or Production Company and leverage their track record to get your project made. There are so many other benefits to this approach too – not least is the fact that if you manage to attract a bigger producer with a track record to your project to partner with you, you can ride their coat tails for this project, get introduced to their whole network of ‘relationships’, and be in a prime position for your next project to go it alone, using all the contacts you made. I’ve seen this happen many times, and it seems sometimes what holds people back in this scenario is their pride. Wouldn’t you rather swallow your pride and get your film made?

Pre-Sales – Here’s the facts: Pre-Sales are not dead. I don’t care what anyone says, Pre-Sales are alive and kicking for the right projects. And that’s the key here – the right projects. What does that mean? That means for projects with a killer concept, an experienced director attached, and great cast, pre-sales are in fact a reality. Now I know this might seem like a long shot for some of you but hear me out….If you are a first time director, focus on a killer concept and cast. If you are a first time producer, focus on attaching a ‘name’ director. You can in fact build a package that attracts pre-sales, it takes time, and often money (development funds) to pull things together but it’s possible.

Crowd Funding – Crowd Funding has actually been around for a while but only recently popularized by sites like Kickstarter & Indie Go Go. However, as many of you know, Robert Greenwald has been crowd funding his movies for years. His moves, being cause-related in nature, actually quite nicely lend themselves to being crowd funded (by people who are passionate about his causes). But what about if you have a narrative feature (as opposed to a cause-related doc)? The truth is, Crowd Funding can work for you too but the success of your campaign will be predicated on your ability to build an audience for your film while you’re still in the financing stage. No easy task but by leveraging the internet and social media, ti’s entirely possible provided you have a subject in your film, or are covering a topic or theme that people are actually interested in. Have you researched the concept of your film yet to determine if in fact there’s a potential audience for it that will be interested in seeing it? That’s the key to crowd funding right there.

These 4 components are what I see as the basic building blocks of a Film Financing plan in today’s market. And by building blocks I mean you should be using a combination of a few if not all of these to get the job done!

So what are your thoughts about Film Finance Overwhelm? Which of these methods have you used successfully, or not so successfully? And what questions do you have about any of them?

I’ll be kicking off one last Virtual Intensive for 2010 dedicated to Film Finance Overwhelm because I know that many of you are looking ahead at 2011 and you want to get your films made next year come hell or high water!

In my Virtual Intensive – Film Financing 2.0 Essential Training - I’ll be covering these 4 components of financing in-depth over the course of a few weeks. Take a look at the details of this small group program, and grab a seat before it sells out. Join the movement to get your film financed for 2011!

Stacey Parks is an expert in the area of Film Distribution, and the author of "Insiders Guide To Independent Film Distribution" (Focal Press). After several years as a foreign sales agent, in 2007 Stacey launched www.FilmSpecific.com as a Virtual Training hub for Producers seeking to get their films made, seen, & distributed worldwide.


GREAT EXPECTATIONS: Not Just a Dickens Novel.

What do Filmmakers want from film markets and what they can realistically get?

Discerning the difference between a film that can actually sell well enough to justify having a third party sales agent and going to markets vs a film that is best served by DIY methods that should be planned and employed BEFORE the film’s first exhibition”

Guest post from Orly Ravid, Founder of The Film Collaborative (TFC)

We get questioned all the time by members and others about which markets should filmmakers attend and which sales agents should they go with. Having unrealistic expectations is dangerous. It sets people up to do nothing on their own but wait for some third party to make their dreams come true.

We’re just coming off of AFM. indieWIRE reports growth attendance at the market. See this article if you want to read the stats. They are however only relative to last year, a real low, and not addressing the question on everyone’s mind, what about the sales themselves.  AFM has always been known more for genre films and cast-driven films. Troma films do well for the genre category and Henry’s Crime starring Keanu Reeves, James Caan and Vera Farmiga is a cast driven narrative was being sold this year, for example.

It was decently busy from my p.o..v and buyers were there a bit more to buy than they were at say Toronto, according to our foreign sales partner, Ariel Veneziano of Re-Creation Media. But, the question is what are they there to buy and at what price?  The shift in the business from the 80’s and 90’s till now is not reversing itself and I don’t think it ever will. Prices have come down, dramatically because ancillary business has shifted so much, retailers have gone under, and supply has grown. That is the case across the board.

Digital services such as Fluent, Gravitas, Distribber, Brainstorm (all of whom we work with) were all at AFM, digital is where the business is now, not in getting big MGs per territory for most films anymore, not for most art house films. Of course there is some of that business still but the people benefiting from it are the Sales Companies with big libraries and the aggregators with the same. The individual sales prices, after expenses are deducted, are more often than not, not making money for the filmmakers,  not given the terms most companies offer, at least not from our vantage point, . Of course we’re not in the business of selling big genre films or cast-driven films so we are not addressing those. Docs do sell best to TV at doc markets such as Hot Docs and IDFA, to name two, and those so far still seem to be worth it and that business still has value.  And of course a lucky few theatrical-potential docs sell at Sundance and TIFF etc.

Why do I bring this up? Because we get questioned all the time by members and others about which markets should filmmakers attend and which sales agents should they go with and the truth is, very often the films are not viable for a sales agent because the sales would be too small and if a sales agent did take the film on, the filmmaker would never see a dime after the sales agents recouped their expenses and fees and after one has paid for Delivery. And then the sales agent  / sales company would have the right to do the DIGITAL DISTRIBUTION DIRECTLY that the FILMMAKER SHOULD BE DOING. That is the point of this blog.  Discerning the difference between a film that can actually sell well enough to justify having a third party sales agent and going to markets vs a film that is best served by DIY methods that should be planned and employed BEFORE the film’s first exhibition.

Stacey Parks recently sent this missive out to her members: “So AFM is coming to a close and the overall good news for everyone out there is that business is picking up from last year. Sales are brisk and even Pre-Sales are brisk for the right projects. I've met with several clients who are here at AFM and all of them are reporting good results in meeting a variety of people and companies as potential financiers for their projects, or sellers, or both.”

That’s exciting and we know Stacey knows her stuff and she’s a friend so all good. But I still want to know the numbers from everyone who sold a film, or didn’t after spending money trying, and ask all of you readers to share the real numbers, as we will of course (you will soon see), so that people can know what expectations are reasonable and what is not reasonable to expect.

Having unrealistic expectations is dangerous. It sets people up to do nothing on their own but wait for some third party to make their dreams come true. And then time goes by, months and even years, and one has done anything to build community around the film or get it out there. Then filmmakers are disappointed and blame others instead of making it happen for themselves.  There is no excuse for that anymore.

We announced a partnership with Palm Springs International Film Festival to help its filmmakers distribute and we will be working with other film festivals to do the same. Filmmakers are embracing Jon Reiss and Sheri Candler’s PMD concept and that can really create success via DIY distribution or get an audience started to give leverage in negotiating a deal.  The options for accessing Cable VOD and digital platform distribution and also having mobile Apps distribute the film are only growing, though of course the space gets only more glutted too.

But solutions are being worked out for that. Companies such as Gravitas are working with Cable operators vigorously to better program and highlight various categories of cinema, making it easier for audiences to find what they might be looking for. Comcast debuted a VOD search feature that imitates Google’s, and this will help in time: http://www.multichannel.com/article/459677-Comcast_Debuts_VOD_Sear

Verizon introduced Flex view to help consumers manage content on all their devices and all the players involved in digital are competing with each other to get as much good content to consumers in the most useful and user-friendly way to grow that market further, so whilst the space gets more glutted, there are more solutions in play to manage the paradox of choice a bit better and that’s why it’s imperative that filmmakers get engaged with their own success more and more, and sooner and sooner.  Lastly, these days, aggregators such as Cinetic and many distributors openly rely on filmmakers to do a lot of their own community building and marketing so if you are already doing the work, you might as well keep your rights.

Again, we do sales ourselves, we know there is still value in that, but we implore you filmmakers to do the research before you give up the rights and before you just forge forward trying to figure out which market to attend or having organizations like us do that for you, for many many films, there is no market you can attend that will be worth your while. Create your own market that will pay off in the long run.

-Orly Ravid

Orly Ravid has worked in film acquisitions / sales / direct distribution and festival programming for the last twelve years since moving to Los Angeles from home town Manhattan. In January 2010, Orly founded The Film Collaborative (TFC), the first non-profit devoted to film distribution of independent cinema www.TheFilmCollaborative.org Orly runs TFC w/ her business partner, co-exec director Jeffrey Winter.