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2010 Toronto Film Festival: Part 1

by Jeff Steele

I’m heading to the Toronto International Film Festival, which kicks-off this week and marks the one-year anniversary of the credit crunch and market collapse that left the streets of last year’s festival strewn with the bodies of dead deals.  It’s worth noting that TIFF is not technically a film market in the same sense that AFM and Cannes are, but it is a major North American festival that, due to its proximity between Hollywood and Europe, attracts enough buyers and financiers to function as a mini-market similar to Sundance.

An inside look at the landscape of the industry as of this Toronto Mini-Mart reveals that institutional equity is still scarce, but a resurgence in individual private equity seems to be filling in some of those cracks.  Lenders, however, continue to be extra conservative in their lending practices and this is creating an additional (often unanticipated) 20% shortfall in film finance plans (that does not reveal itself until late in the game) and is derailing many closings and causing these films to collapse.  This is creating a demand for even more international pre-sales to plug that extra gap.  In the past, pre-sales of international territories needed to total about 25% of a film’s budget; that number has since climbed to 40% or more of a film’s budget.  To add insult to injury, finance and production companies know all too well that buyers are becoming more and more reluctant to engage in pre-sales for films that they are not confident will go into production.  Even though it’s a buyers’ market, cash and credit are still in short supply and buyers don’t want to commit to cash deposits unless it’s for a “sure thing”.

In the past, most producers and financiers were content to let their sales agents go off to markets and festivals to make the necessary internati0nal sales and pre-sales on their behalf.  These days, however, with many film closings hanging in the balance, companies are not satisfied to just stay at home and wait for news, but nor do they want to ship out employees and pay to put them up.  Case in point, I have recently been asked by financiers and producers to convey to potential buyers the validity of a given film’s financing structure as well as their realistic time lines to closing and production (about which most filmmakers tend to be overly optimistic).  While clearly a sign of the times, it’s also a form of vetting that benefits all sides, as I have no stake in the film, nor do I speak to the creative or commercial elements of the film, so I can therefore remain relatively objective.  This in turn helps buyers more clearly prioritize which films they want to commit to and in what order.  Buyers and distributors have pipelines and schedules that need to be filled, way in advance; if they commit their cash reserves to a big budget film with big stars, but that film takes a year or more to finally go into production because of a flimsy financing plan, that’s a lot of missed opportunities that could have gone to films that would have been well into post-production by then.  The way I see it, anything that gets more financially sound films made, is good for everybody.  Transparency and consistency are the foundations of a dependable market — and that’s the only kind of market that will clear away the stench of last year’s corpses.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. September 10, 2010

    Hopefully you’ll bring back some good news.

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  2. September 10, 2010

    The 20% shortfall has always been that missing piece and in most cases the people putting up the 20% were doing so based on only 25% presales. With widening pre-sales requirements its going to be interesting to see how people sell the last needed piece and what they’ll have to give away to get it.

    Nice post Jeff. Have fun in TO

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  3. BenL permalink
    September 10, 2010

    Thanks Jeff. This real-time insight is very helpful.

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  4. Odette Blanch permalink
    September 10, 2010

    Are you able and available to take any meetings at TIFF with local filmmakers?

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    • Jeff Steele permalink
      September 12, 2010

      Odette, if you run into me or see me, please feel free to stop, say hello and introduce yourself.

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  5. Andy Halmay permalink
    September 10, 2010

    If you will find yourself with a half hour to kill in Toronto, I’d be delighted to meet if just to shake hands. 416-925-1271

    I won’t be at TIFF but I live in Toronto, minutes away, and I may have three international co-productions next year – one with Germany, one with Israel and one with India since Canadian Heritage has just announced the start of Canada-India negotiations for a co-production treaty. Enjoy your stay.

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  6. September 11, 2010

    Jeff, Good luck during the TIFF!

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  7. Matt permalink
    September 12, 2010

    Another great post!

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