Zurich Finance Forum explores post-crisis opportunities

Growing opportunities in a post-crisis market and the increasingly important role of private equity investors in European and U.S. film generated intense discussion at the Zurich Film Finance Forum on Saturday.

CAA’s Roeg Sutherland offered a view of the new order in Hollywood, saying there was great opportunity for independent producers to fill niches left empty by the studios. Event was presented by Winston Baker in association with Variety.

Keynote address was delivered by Constantin Film CEO Bernhard Burgener, who was in a celebratory mood at the Zurich Film Festival thanks to the worldwide box office success of “Resident Evil: Afterlife.”

“The influence of technology on economic performance is stronger than ever,” Burgener said.

At a panel examining risk reduction in film financing, Sutherland said the $40 million thrillers and action movies previously made by studios are “now getting made for $20 million to $25 million.”

Likewise, Sutherland said the new reality had drastically altered the way dramas are made in view of shrinking budgets.

“What we have to explain to financiers is there’s no way to make a $20 million drama right now and sell it in the U.S. and recoup your money.

“The only way you would have a slight shot of recouping any of that money is actually putting up your own P and A.

“While it took some time to adjust to the new reality, most of the industry has grasped the situation,” Sutherland said.

“Everybody gets it now. The talent gets it. The directors get it. The only people that really don’t get it are studio producers who aren’t really used to the changes, but they’re going to have to get over the fact that they’re never going to get gross again on an independent film.”

He added that the market is stabilizing and business is picking up, as witnessed in Toronto.

Media lawyer Matthias Braun of Berlin-based law firm Eggers Malmendier, who advises private equity investors looking to put money into film, said local-language film in Europe has become a big investment market, a fact underscored by the U.S. majors’ increased commitments in key territories on the continent. “So that should also be a focus for investors.”

Looking at local-language productions in France, Spain or Germany, Braun says investors would have solid chances with a romantic comedy with a well-known star, perhaps a teenage film, but added that most of those types of films don’t even see the investor market “because they don’t need it.”

“When considering international projects, everything has to be taken into account, he said. “Story, script, cast, the reputation of the sales company, who the local distributor is. Is the budget really coming together?”

Braun added that presales play a vital role and should include one or two major territories and cover a minimum of 20% to 30% of the budget.

In addition, Braun likes to see subsidy money already attached to the project as well as coin from the producer’s own pocket.

“It might be surprising to some people but it’s not so unusual that the producer himself does not put a single cent in the film – I wouldn’t like that.”

How much should a private equity invest in a film? Braun says EUR 500,000 ($673,500) tops for a German-language production, double that for an English-language European film “with an OK cast.”

“For a U.S. film, we’re talking very different numbers. You don’t have to show up at Lionsgate with $1 million.”

Braun advises clients to keep their equity investment at a safe 10% of the budget, not only for risk protection but also to get investors on board. “It takes a long time to recoup your money,” he said.

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