Moderator ordered cell phones off, no pitches

With an SRO audience proving there are few things closer to a filmmaker’s heart than coin, Financing Independent Film, a Monday sesh in the Variety Cannes Conference Series struck all the right notes.

Moderator and IFP/New York executive director Michelle Byrd laid down the law, ordering mobiles switched off and come Q&A “no pitches and no long commentaries!”

Killer Films’ Christine Vachon kicked off the info-packed event, observing “the market’s changing rapidly and requires a lot of flexibility. Every time it’s like reinventing the wheel.” To Byrd’s question, what do money mavens look for, Wouter Barendrecht, CEO of Fortissimo Film Sales, cited Vachon’s “Camp” as ideally packaged for pre-sale.

“It had a fantastic script and producer,” he said. “It was great for Japan and the Anglo-Saxon territories. Japan pre-sold on the script. Packaging is more crucial than before because buyers want to get in early. With ‘Camp’ we read the script and said yes the same day.”

For UTA’s Howard Cohen, “it comes back to the project and that cliche of script, script, script. Also the director. I look for something to grab on to. If the director’s new you look for something else, like a great producer. Match the project to the right buyer.”

Dressing up and shmoozing the bank manager might have worked “three, four years ago,” said Comerica Entertainment Group’s senior VP Jared Underwood. “For a while it was really easy to get finance but now banks require collateral so you need pre-sales to get the loan and they’re starting to dry up.”

His advice was to “go for the soft money. You have to become an expert on it, where the co-productions are, the film funds, tax credits, presales, etc. Mesh it all together.”

Kirk D’Amico, prexy of Myriad Pictures, waved the flag for the U.K.’s sale and leaseback, likening fundraising to “putting together pieces of a puzzle” before pointing out that completion bonds cost money too and for that “you need 100% finance and a bank.”

At the opposite end of the table and spectrum, IFC Entertainment prexy Jonathan Sehring said he’d never worked with the bank because “we want to see every dollar on the screen. A bond is additional money.” Exec then added that budgets are in the $2 million-$5 million range.

In answer to Byrd’s call for advice Underwood said, “Pick up Variety. If that’s not enough find sales companies selling your genre. Try to find the right fit.” For all concerned, bottom line is the passion of producers to get the job done.

“They sometimes leave the starting gate without all the money in place,” said Sehring, “but they get to the finish line with a great movie.”

Panel was presented by the Maryland Film Office and sponsored by IFP/New York. No mobiles rang. No one pitched. No one made a commentary.

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