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Film Finance Events: Worth the Money or Waste of Time?

by Jeff Steele

............Great Networking Opportunity.........

It can be dizzying how many film finance networking events there are. The Summits, The Forums, The Seminars, The Conferences, The Symposiums, The Markets, The Gatherings, The Workshops, The Roundtables, The Consortiums, or maybe even, The Speed Pitch Mosh Pits.

Spending money on these events range from as little as the cost of gas to 5K a pop. Those in attendance all have the same high hopes of learning that silver bullet of information they are dying to know, or meeting the people they need to meet to finally make their financing dreams come true.

Should you attend or should you not attend, that is the question and here is my answer:

  • Yes, if you want to network
  • No, if you want to learn groundbreaking information

A few things to consider before you drop your coin:

1. WHO IS ATTENDING: A mix is key.  Make sure there will be a grouping of producers, financiers, sales agents, lawyers, packaging agents on the panels and in the audience.  Are there fresh faces in the mix? Or is it the same participants and panelists from last time.  Do the panelists relate to where you are in your career or have they become so out of touch that their wisdom holds no relevancy for your situation.

2. WHAT IS THE VENUE: A smaller venue with quality panelists can often foster a more casual, open and approachable experience than big ballroom conferences.  Conversely, muti-day conferences can give you an opportunity to identify the people you want to meet and establish a repoir over those few days.

3. WHO IS MODERATING: Who’s moderating is just as important if not more than the  panelists. They are responsible for creating an interesting and informative discussion for all. Moderators can put the experts on the spot, I know I like it when a moderator does this to me when I sit on panels. You want a moderator who can drill down with the right questions. It’s important the speakers stay on the point you came to hear about or was advertised. At the very least a moderator can help make the discussion a bit more entertaining and in-turn more palatable.

What’s on the docket?

TOO REMEDIAL: What I find frustrating, however, is that most of the information provided is either run-of-the-mill, or too abstract.  Students aside, I think it’s safe to say that most producers know by now now that independent movies are made with a combination of foreign presales and gap loans, equity investors, and tax credits advances.

TOO ADVANCED: Panels consisting of slate/facility deals, studio/mini-major economics, Monte Carlo simulations, structured fianncing deals, investment bankers, hedging and so on, are very interesting and informative for the select few who can understand, but if you haven’t actually experienced these types of transactions, then you can’t contextualize it, which means it won’t stick.  You’ll have spent good money to be bombarded with a lot of information you won’t retain.

WHO IS THE HOST BEHIND THE CURTAIN:

This is important, because you’ll know why the event is being put on in the first place. Here are a few of the different motivations.

Is it attorney sponsored? Because those are typically the most expensive due to the fact they can be counted as continuing education credits and the employers will pay.  Is it business sponsored? These are the events to help market the sponsors business while using the event as a self promotion vehicle disguised as education. (hence your new found tote bag, key chain, or mini flashlight.) Lastly, there are events created by the entrepreneur who themselves might be interested in filmmaking and meeting the key players while at the same time creating a organization business model for hosting events and collecting memberships.

Note: None of these are bad motives; it just helps to know which type of event you are attending.

Worth the money or waste of time?

There is nothing more important than the relationships and connections in getting deals done. I have said this before, people do business with people they know. Your job is to get to know people face to face, not just through, online forums or message boards or social networking sites and email. Meet them in person. Give them a face to your name. These events are not the time to be shy. Panelists are usually well meaning while they are there and like to feel helpful (to give back). And who knows you might be sitting next to a new co-producing partner, lender, or future sales agent.

What I can promise you is that you won’t be sitting next to anyone alone at your computer.

Here is a list of some of the groups who hold film financing events.

(If your group is not listed and you would like it added here, just post it in the comment section of this post)

14 Responses leave one →
  1. Tre' McGriff permalink
    April 2, 2010

    Jeff,

    Once again, you’re on point and hit the nail on the head with your observations. In my experience, I’ve found most of the events I’ve attended to be a waste of time. It appears that most financiers only want the projects whose budgets start at $5,000,000 and up. In this economic climate, that’s unrealistic for most filmmakers. I’ve worked on four features thus far, with the highest budget being about $100,000. The project I’m currently developing, with name talent, is budgeted at $400,000. Guess I’ll continue to seek funding from dentists!!

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    • April 4, 2010

      @Tre, Keeping your films under $500k is smart, but I recommend playing it safe and picking projects that are commercial to foreign buyers. You stand the best chance of returning your investors’ money — and then it’s ony a matter of time before a satisfied investor gets an appetite for bigger projects. Personally, I’m glad I got to make my mistakes on ultra-low budget indies: my first was a $120k credit-card film shot on 35mm black-n-white.

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  2. Andy Halmay permalink
    April 2, 2010

    Your contention in the second last line is indisputable – “What I can promise you is that you won’t be sitting next to anyone alone at your computer.”

    There was a TV commercial for a Lottery that probably got hundred’s of thousands to buy lottery tickets. It made a similar statement: “You can’t win if you don’t play.”

    Now we know what the odds are in lotteries. Presumably they are better at seminars.

    If anyone wanted to become king of this type of gathering with sell-out crowds at premium entry-fees, let him round up a few major names known for having provided equity investments in films. That might even attract smaller equity investors just to rub shoulders with the big guys. Put a few Bill Pohlads on the panel and see what happens.

    Here’s a thought for a budding Bernie Madoff: Call Central Casting for a few Middle Eastern-looking characters, dress them up with Arab head gear, give them names and titles, like Sheik Abdullah, Prince Ali Baba, advertise them as a group in town looking to invest $186 million in low budget Indie films and charge $5,000 a crack at the door. Make sure you’ve got a back door and a fast car in the lane with the engine running, too.

    But getting back to the guy alone at his computer, it is amazing how much can be accomplished – what quality contacts can be made – through Google and email and Skype – all free.

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  3. April 2, 2010

    In the last several months, it seems that almost every week I come across another financing scheme that makes me take another long hot shower because I’ve spent too much time trying to figure out if it is legit.
    Lately I’ve been coming across these schemes, mostly online, on almost a daily basis.

    I think Jeff’s observations are pretty accurate and balanced, for the most part.
    The fundamentals remain the same, even though every deal is different.
    Once you learn these two dictums, the in-person networking becomes the reason for attending the finance conferences.

    Unless you’re a known entity, a casual introduction and a minute or two of discussion is all you’re going get from the panelists at most of these conferences.
    And you’d better have something to say that resonates immediately, and is commensurate to what you are asking for.

    Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but, say for example, if you’re approaching Ryan Kavanaugh with a pitch for a documentary film about the history of cockroaches in Antartica, and the production budget is $50M, chances are Ryan is not going to spend a lot of time chatting. Quite frankly, after about four seconds (maybe less) he’ll be looking for a quick exit door, or a security guard.

    Foreign pre-sales, gap loans, equity investors, tax credit advances is the standard, as Jeff said. And these days, those elements are attracted by, in no particular order and generally speaking; Marketing Platform, Genre, Script, Name Talent, Director and Producer.

    If there’s a lot of money around, it’s easier to put the deal together.
    These days, not so much money around.

    Wall Street poised to get back in?
    I’m hearing rumblings.
    We’ll see how real it is.

    In the meantime, you have to grind away, with a lot of patience, and put the pieces together to the best of your ability, with Right Intent and Good Faith.

    The home run (or perhaps stand-up double) is being lucky enough meet a venture capitalist early on in that process who can put enough First Money in to leverage the balance of your film production financing needs.
    (Of course the home run is the venture capitalist putting all the money in.)

    Anyway, when all the financing is finally in place, and clear, and available with cool Executive Producers who understand the importance of collaboration on all levels … then, and only then .. can you call Mom and tell her that maybe (maybe) you’re not a complete loser after all.
    I say Maybe, because you still have to make a film that audiences and distributors will embrace.

    And THEN you can call Mom and tell her that you really, REALLY aren’t a complete loser after all.
    Of course, if Mom doesn’t like the film …

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    • April 4, 2010

      @Brian, whenever the economy dips, scams spike. Generally, any finance model that takes more than 30 seconds to explain is suspect, as are ratio models (e.g. 80/20 deals: you escrow 20% and I’ll fund 80%.) If someone tells you to escrow money first, don’t — they’ll either steal it, or they’re just using that money to try to go raise more money.

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  4. Samantha permalink
    April 2, 2010

    I have a different answer. The film finance event with Jeff Steele on the panel is the one I’ll attend. I wonder do any panelists get paid or does everyone do it for free? It’s interesting how these conference groups make money off of the panelists.

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  5. Rich permalink
    April 2, 2010

    You have a great sense of humor Jeff. The picture of the film finance speed pitching train is priceless. Seriously thanks for the insight. I too have found moderators to be one of the most important aspects of a panel discussion. They are underrated.

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  6. Rick permalink
    April 2, 2010

    Good moderators are key as you say. It needs to be someone who already knows the issues and can ask intelligent questions. At the recent IIFF Film Financing Townhall that was unfortuntely the case, and you could really tell.

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  7. Rick permalink
    April 2, 2010

    sorry, it was unfortuntely NOT the case

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  8. April 3, 2010

    I think Jeff’s thoughts here are well-organized and spot on. The only note I would add is to say that the difference between North American finance models and European / Asian / Middle Eastern, etc. is that this statement by Jeff doesn’t exactly fit:

    “Students aside, I think it’s safe to say that most producers know by now now that independent movies are made with a combination of foreign presales and gap loans, equity investors, and tax credits advances.”

    While most of this is correct, there is the added element of state-funded film finance grants, loan guarantees, etc., famously used in Europe and elsewhere as seed money and even completion money for independent films.

    Europeans benefit from actual co-production treaties (with the most of the rest of the film-producing world except the USA) and when the recent economic crisis sucked the wind out of USA indie production, European producers enjoyed the more ‘reliable’ source of state-funded grants, etc.

    Understanding the finance models of European production seems to give an advantage to new European producers right now, who are being supported by generous capacity-building schemes throughout Europe to help them attend these conferences.

    And importantly, attending these conferences is often the only way to become sufficiently acquainted with European commissioning editors, film agency heads, and other decision makers, needed to put in place the total funding needed under European models.

    BTW, this economic crisis seems to have temporarily reversed the world order: it used to be that our Euro producers formerly went to the US looking for completion dollars, etc., but recently, there are more indie producers from the USA showing up to try to tap into our producers’ familiarity with the recession-proof Euro support schemes — who knew!

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    • April 4, 2010

      @Mark, Utilizing Western European co-production treaties is still one of the best financing models. These days, if you’re lucky enough to have an EU, Canadian, or Australian passport, then you’re one step ahead of the game. While not specifically stated, my presumption that most producers are familiar with the standard finance model was more geared toward US producers attending US finance forums. If there is a panel on co-productions, then that’s usually worth attending. If you don’t have an EU or Australian passport, then I would recommend hitching your wagon to a fellow producer who does.

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  9. John W. Bosley permalink
    April 12, 2010

    Jeff,

    You’re first comment, about how you had funded films from different levels, starting with producing one at 12K on a credit card, was one of the best comments you’ve made. To explain the complexities of loans and financing is one thing, but to also be able to say “I’ve been there and done that” on many levels is a great connection to all of us filmmakers. Thanks for the blog.

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  10. Pamela Ezell permalink
    May 23, 2010

    FYI: Jeff will moderate the next IIFF/LA Townhall event, Wednesday, May 26, 7-10 PM, at the Goethe Center
    5750 Wilshire Boulevard
    Suite 100, Screening Room
    Los Angeles, CA 90036
    Click above or on the iiff link in the footer at the bottom of the page

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