Indie producers are on a relentless quest to find the elusive "final 20%" of their budgets. They've raised the equity, made the presales, maxed the gap, and still they come up 20% short. Even with a whopping 40% cash rebate! So why then are they still stumbling around trying to fill that final 20% of their budgets?! Because producers can't get out of their own way.
David Molner and David Bergstein are two of the smartest people in the business. Unfortunately, as has been proven many times over, the smartest guys in the room can make the worst decisions; and those decisions usually rely too much on smarts and not enough on judgement. The smarts recognized the potential for profits -- but the judgement knew the risk was too great.
First, Robert Halmi's RHI bankruptcy took out US Bank's entertainment division. Now, this wave of destruction could come crashing right through the front door at JP Morgan's entertainment division. The result for indie producers will be even fewer banks willing to bet on riskier films.
Recently, I was interviewed by Kingsley Marshall, contributor to Big Screen, Film International, Little White Lies, and Shook, for a story on film finance.Do you find this Q&A interesting? What additional information would you like to know about?Here is the Q&A from this article not yet out:Kingsley Marshall: How hard is it to find movie financing in 2010?JEFF STEELE: It's very, very tough out there for single-picture, indie films. There are about six entertainment banks left that are actively lending, down from 12 in 2008, and only a handful of gap funds, down from a zillion in 2008. Wall Street equity, like hedge funds, has pretty much abandoned the single-picture finance business as well, but is still present in slate financing structures. And yet, films are still getting made.Kingsley Marshall: How much is the credit crunch to blame?JEFF STEELE: The credit crunch definitely played a key part in the production freeze in 2009, where the streets of Cannes and Toronto were paved with dead deals. 2010's glut has to do more with (1) the plethora of bad film deals that were made during the go-go years of 2005-2008 that have barely recouped this budgets, (2) high net worth individuals not having the disposable income they once had (or thought they had), and (3) the lack of U.S. distributors (and P&A) available to the indie market. The credit crunch is definitely having a direct impact on the ability of foreign buyers and distributors to finance pre-sales and pre-sales deposits, which are critical elements in indie film financing.
Just to set the record straight from previous comments about one of the main reasons entertainment banks ignore film budgets under 10m.The traditional finance model (via senior banks and mezz lenders) does not willingly service films with budgets under $10m because there are numerous hard costs that (as a percentage of budget) cannot be reasonably sustained by low budgets.
Something that bigger-budget producers unknowingly take for granted is the availability of different types of financing. But any ultra low budget producer (under $2m) can tell you with frustrating familiarity that they can fit their financing structure on a postage stamp.