Financial wells dry for indies

Neither commercial banks nor Wall Street are likely sources of easy capital for the entertainment industry any time soon, a disappointed crowd of film and TV executives was told yesterday at the Motion Picture Finance seminar sponsored by Kagan Seminars at Ma Maison Sofitel.

“There’s clearly no rush on Wall Street to finance independents through equity or high yield instruments,” Barry Porter, a managing director at Bear Stearns Los Angeles office told a group of 150 entertainment exex. The audience included top brass from Fox, Disney, Viacom, Turner, Columbia, as well as bankers, lawyers and industry analysts.

Despite an exuberant luncheon address by Sony Entertainment chairman and CEO Peter Guber, the overall tone of the seminar was sober.

John Miller, who heads up Chemical Bank’s media and entertainment finance division, painted a bleak picture for commercial bank lending to the industry for the near future.

Miller said even for a banker with his track record and experience, arranging recent financings for Castle Rock and Largo Entertainment “were nightmares for us.” Both credits, he added, took four months to syndicate.

At an earlier panel at the all-day seminar, production executives revealed that the international marketplace presented a whole new arena of complexity for both studios and international dealmakers.

Japanese investors “almost exhausted themselves” in financing movies, said Alan Schwartz, a senior partner at Cooper, Epstein & Hurewitz.

He predicted that in the search for global capital, it would be “difficult” for U.S. companies to come into new alignments. “American companies have been arrogant and short-sighted,” he said, in fighting over the same territory for distribution instead of making strategic alliances.

The discussion on global finance stirred a rare moment of disagreement among the panelists, who also included Peter Dekom, partner with Bloom, Dekom & Hergott; Frans Afman, a managing director of ICM Financial Services and the former head of entertainment lending at Credit Lyonnais; Peter Hoffman, chairman of CineVisions and former head of Carolco, and Nigel Sinclair, managing partner of Sinclair Tenebaum and a leading player in arranging international financing for “1492.”

Dekom, who is expected to be making a bid for Imagine by partnering with Fujisankei, emphasized the importance of strategic partners in forming a new economic base in global film distribution.

Instead of distributors passively investing based on the projected profits in their territory, Dekom sees a more active role for licensees.

“The days of the funded deal are over; they want participation and aren’t interest in repeating relationships,” Dekom observed of international distributors. Instead, he predicts more “performance-driven deals,” where distributors may not only demand more profits from a pool of revenues, but a larger role in approving what films in a slate of films they might directly participate in, even when it comes to approving talent.

Afman, though, countered with what he perceives as the continuing importance of project-by-project financing through presale agreements on a global basis.

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