Rethinking independent film financing

September 15th, 2008 by Barry Caplan | Tags: ,

I agree in principle with the lead to this story from Variety last week:

People use different words to describe the turmoil in the indie and specialty world depending on how hard they’ve been hit.

Whether this is a correction, a shakeout or a cyclical downturn, everybody agrees it is time to rethink many of the assumptions of indie finance. No longer can the tide of new money and new distributors compensate for runaway budgets and best-case-scenario revenue models.

The article contains more gems, for example:

The ballooning of overall P&A spending in the specialty arena, especially on the titles viewed as Oscar bait, has upped the ante for everyone. For instance, the collective tab for marketing “There Will Be Blood” and “No Country for Old Men” approached $100 million.

But the advice contained inside is standard fare – just rearranging the ingredients is what is recommended. Nothing about who adds value to the project at what stage, nothing about estimating the value of the project at any given stage. Instead all we have is a recipe for handing off responsibility for financial success to someone else, and then being disappointed when that person doesn’t fill your greedy hands with a revenue share.

Increasingly, today’s savvy young filmmakers see themselves as entrepreneurs as much as artists or artistes.  They are interested in finance of film as more then a means to an end, they are interested in it in a risk sharing fashion, and they are looking towards fresher models of financing that are not variations of a 1914-era plan.

I recently had a chance to discuss candidly career plans and finance matters with a group of the nation’s most promising undiscovered young filmmakers. To a person, when asked point blank if they thought film (as shown in a theater) was going to be as relevant to the public in 5 and again in 10 and 15 years, they all said no, and, being as that would still leave them at the early to mid stage of their career, it worries them.

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