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Hollywood's Counterfeiters

by Jeff Steele

The most valuable currency  in Hollywood is trade announcements.  Unfortunately, 85% of that currency is created by counterfeiters (being projects that never get made, yet blanket the trades on a daily basis). The legitimate currency consists of small pocket change, which is the 10% of film announcements that luckily come together to get made.  And the big bills (the ones that buyers see as true legal tender)… the ones that come from the 5% of producers who have established a consistent reputation for actually making the films they announce.

The value of this currency cannot be overstated.  A consistent supplier of mediocre films will get their projects expedited (and their calls returned) faster than most hit makers can.

Why? Because at its core, people need to get paid, and a sure thing is always more coveted than a definite maybe.  As such, a reliable producer becomes a watering hole in the wasteland of combustible films.  You may not like the smell of the water, it might have a funny taste, you may even get bit by an alligator once in a while, but if you want to survive, then you must periodically return to those watering holes (this is true for reps, artists, producers, buyers, and more.)

-- Watering Hole -- Avi Lerner - LIFE

You do not have to be prolific, in order to be a watering hole.  You just need to be reliable.  Foreign buyers treasure this quality perhaps above all others.  Because buyers have to put up cash deposits and fill release schedules, dependability is paramount.

I don’t think anybody posses more of this currency than Avi Lerner (Nu Image).  At any given film market, he’s the guy that has that satisfied smirk on his face, because he sold everything he came to sell.  Are his movies any better?  Are his stars any bigger?  Does he always have domestic distribution?  Not necessarily.  But he is probably the most consistently reliable producer, when it comes to making what he announces.  Ryan Kavanaugh (Relativity Media) is another.  If you’re not sure where the watering holes are, just look for the foreign output deals (where foreign buyers contractually agree to buy an entire slate of future movies); that’s your best indicator.

It takes patience and strategy to properly package a project and put together its finance plan before announcing it to the world.  Unfortunately, too many in Hollywood feel compelled to announce every step in the development cycle of their projects. This just becomes an embarrassing pubic record of those who create the counterfeit currency in Hollywood.

Pop Quiz….

Q: Which of the 8  Al Pacino projects currently being shopped around right now holds the most currency?

A: ___________

First to provide the right answer wins!

Copyright © 2010. Film Closings Inc. All rights reserved.
11 Responses leave one →
  1. John permalink
    February 26, 2010

    Jeff, I just looked it up on IMDB Pro can you confirm that these are the 8 projects you are wanting us to answer for your quiz?

    1. Dali & I: The Surreal Story – Room 9 Entertainment
    2. Rififi – Stone Village Pictures
    3. The Humbling – (I don’t see a producer or production company listed)
    4. Betsy and the Emperor – GC
    5. Blink – Appian Way
    6. Mary Mother of Christ – Aloe Entertainment
    7. Son of No One – Millennium Films
    8. King Lear – Barry Navidi and Nigel Goldsack (I don’t see a production company listed)

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  2. February 26, 2010

    Yes, very good. Those are they.

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  3. February 26, 2010

    “Because at its core, people need to get paid, and a sure thing is always more coveted than a definite maybe.”

    You couldn’t have said it better.

    Amazing how this concept gets lost on the majority in Hollywood.

    I still remember a well-known film school founder saying to me years ago, “As a producer, you have to always answer ‘I have multiple projects in various stages of development’.”

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  4. steven adams permalink
    March 1, 2010

    son of no one

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    • March 3, 2010

      Steven, You also won. While David gave us the color commentary, you also guessed correctly. An amazon.com gift certificate will be coming your way too.

      This quiz/contest is over.

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  5. John permalink
    March 2, 2010

    Steve, why did you guess Son of No One at Millenium Films? And Jeff What do we get if we win????

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  6. March 2, 2010

    I am certain it is Son of No One. Avi did big sales for it over at Berlin. His business model is attaching a major star like Pacino, promising a huge paid (I heard somewhere between $9-11m) and then selling off his foreign territories to back the offer. He is usually in the black before the film is even made. He did this also with Righteous Kill. Even if his movie tanks domestically he is in profit. He does this on a regular basis, therefore there is no reason to believe he will not be successful with Son of No One. King Lear will get made with Barry Navidi producing but private equity is financing that one.It’s also Pacino’s pet project, he loves Shakespeare. Betsy and the Emperor is going to be a touch one but Killer has a good reputation as well. Don’t know about the other projects.

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    • March 2, 2010

      That was a short contest — congratulations David, you won! Thank you for the additional color commentary, as well. If Avi wants a project/package, he has no qualms about coming in 25% above asking, just to take it off the auction block.

      You are correct, Avi usually doesn’t make a movie unless he can presell at least 80%. In addition, he owns many of the vendors that service the films: financing, foreign sales, studios in Bulgaria and Louisiana, and so on. Profit on top of profit.

      Thanks for playing David. And since everybody likes to win something, you have an Amazon.com gift certificate coming your way!

      Jeff

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      • May 20, 2010

        Hi Jeff,

        Can you please explain to me what rights the development investor has to the project/package and how they benefit from a producer like Avi buying it?

        Thanks,
        Obi

        PS. I think this is my new favorite blog.

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  7. John permalink
    March 2, 2010

    David, I had no idea you would know so much. I thought I had a real chance at winning this. (Due, to my competitive streak. And Jeff, you never said there was an actual prize.

    Congrats David!

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  8. March 3, 2010

    Wow, thanks so much Jeff! Yes, Avi is a major player. What a great business model if you can do it. He is one of a kind!

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