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AFM panel: More lenders giving indies credit

The relationship between the entertainment banking world and indie filmmakers has never been stronger, or as active, as it is today, according to a group of prominent indie industry mavens at an AFM panel discussion Thursday.

Grappling with the topic “Movies’ Reel Magic: Finding the Money,” the panel was moderated by attorneys Nigel Sinclair — co-chairman and founding partner of Intermedia — and Keith Fleer, partners in the entertainment law firm Sinclair, Tenenbaum, Emanuel & Fleer, which co-sponsored the event along with KPMG Peat Marwick.

Panelists included Cassian Elwes, VP of the William Morris Agency’s motion picture department; Katherine E. Goodman, senior VP of business and corporate affairs for Intermedia; Lewis P. Horwitz, president of the Lewis Horwitz Organization; Michael Mendelsohn, group portfolio manager and consultant with Banque Paribas; John W. Miller, managing director of the entertainment industries group of Chase Securities, Inc.; and Kathy Morgan, president of Kathy Morgan Intl.

Sophisticated market

Noting the growing sophistication and international breadth of the indie film market, the panel addressed a packed room of bankers and indie mavens hoping to explore the current status and coming trends of indie film financing.

“Banks have made all the difference in recent years. It’s never been easier to raise money for independent films with sophisticated parties that know what they are doing,” said Elwes, a Brit, who has helmed the agency’s independent film department since 1994.

Banks and lenders have taken on more risk in recent years through gap financing — as foreign buyers have cooled to pre-buying films in pre-production or without domestic distribution deals in place — and the panel sent encouraging signals that such financing is an increasingly viable way of doing business.

Filmmakers “need to explain how we will get to this place, on this date, not how much money I need this week,” Goodman said.

Key elements

Citing “passion and startup money” as two of the main elements an indie producer must have before embarking on a production, Sinclair and his cohorts said that as long as these and other elements are in place, the current environment is mostly a positive one for indie filmmakers, large and small.

In her international sales business, Morgan said, she prefers to “pre-pre-sell,” since “only certain territories are pre-buying.

“I go to an international buyer and say: ‘What if I had this project, with this guy? Would you be interested?’ ”

“As the film industry becomes more of a global industry, banks have to understand those (international) markets,” Miller added.

Mendelsohn said that without huge resources, and as long as the producer owns the underlying rights to the material on which a film is based, raising funds may be convoluted, but possible, even for the smallest of productions.

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