Variety forum puts indie future in focus

'Smaller is better' at Film Finance event

The indie market may still be in flux, but experts say “smaller is better” as the film finance world is looking tighter but brighter.

Speaking at Winston Baker’s Film Finance Forum, in association with Variety, panelists said investors have a renewed but cautious sense of the market. They said people who are buying and investing in film product now realize they will be in better positions in the long run by sticking with film investment and riding through the effects of the recent economic downturn.

“It’s a healthy period for new investment and we will all feel very good about the industry in the next few years,” said Marshall Sonenshine, chairman and managing partner of New York-based investment bank Sonenshine Partners.

“There’s nothing like lost money to focus the mind, and we have more focused minds right now in the industry — and that’s a good thing.”

He added that a good shakeup is one of the “best things for long-term players.”

Clint Kisker, director at Screen Capital Intl., a specialist in media finance, said recent cuts in Hollywood will push talent into the indie sector and yield better-quality films.

“As studios try to drive more margins into their business by cutting costs they are reducing the number of pictures they are releasing. This means there are fewer actors that are being paid by studios which pushes talent down into the independent world,” said Kisker.

But producer Ashok Amritraj warned that filmmakers must learn from the past few years and “treat the equity better.”

“We’re now dealing with investors in Asia and the Middle East who are pretty smart guys — they’re not in there just to rub shoulders with stars,” said Amritraj. “Right now, there is a lot of money out there for film investment. People are just being cautious, which means filmmakers need to be able to present a business plan with numbers that make sense.”

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