Case study: ‘The Musketeer’

Alexandre Dumas, author of the 19th-century French classic of intrigue and adventure “The Three Musketeers,” would no doubt be honored to know that the financing plot behind “The Musketeer,” MDP Worldwide’s recent pic based on his novel, was also a classic of intrigue and adventure.

In a six-month period, Los Angeles-based MDP raised roughly $36 million to make the film, but getting there required a high-stakes juggling act of international deals and structures.

“The Musketeer’s” French story naturally lent itself to European financing, and it ended up a U.K-German-Luxembourg co-production. Along with a recognizable director in Peter Hyams (“End of Days,” “Narrow Margin”) and a cast that included Catherine Deneuve, Stephen Rea and Tim Roth, the film amounted to a pre-salable event in Europe, says Mark Damon, MDP’s chairman-CEO.

And so it was. The first stage of financing came from pre-sales in France, Germany, Spain and Japan, among a few others, which raised close to 50% of the budget.

Here’s where things started getting creative. German tax fund and co-producing partner Apollo Media added an additional 20%. Then MDP did a sale-and-lease-back deal in the U.K., providing 12% more. The next step was to secure money from a Luxembourg tax fund by way of a local company that funneled the tax rebates back to MDP. The tax fund injected 9%. The balance of the financing came from a German bank, Stadtsparkasse Cologne.

“Indie companies like ourselves have to become aware of every area in the world where there are tax benefits or subsidies,” says Damon. “We look into that constantly, dealing with lots and lots of lawyers. It’s the only way to make indie pictures.”

At one time, MDP had 22 lawyers in six countries working on the various financing contracts.

Damon flew on some 24 separate flights to all the cities involved, collecting legal papers that stacked up over two feet high. “It was a very complicated piece of clockwork,” says Damon.

As with many complex productions, financing hit an icy patch at one point. Due to one of the licensing deals falling apart, the bank loan didn’t close until seven weeks into the production, which normally would stall a shoot. In this case, however, the bank had a long-standing relationship with Apollo Media and provided financing to sustain production until the loan was approved. “We were very fortunate to have a bank that was so supportive,” says Damon. “That would’ve been a disaster in any other situation.”

The film has grossed more than $34 million worldwide so far. It opened domestically via Universal in September to so-so reviews. It’s since bowed in most territories and opens in Germany in fall.

— Braden Phillips

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