WME's Graham Taylor, Lionsgate's Michael Burns on hand for Toronto event
Barriers to the feature film business — at least in terms of finances — are easing, according to one of Hollywood’s top agents.”The cost barriers to entry have come way down,” WME Global head Graham Taylor said Monday at the Media and Entertainment Town Hall Meeting in Toronto. The event was co-sponsored by Heenan Blaikee and Ernst & Young with Variety editor-in-chief Tim Gray moderating.Taylor closed the most notable deal of the 37th Toronto fest — for “The Place Beyond the Pines,” to Focus for an estimated $3 million — early Sunday. In response to a question about the murky future for the feature business, he responded with an upbeat answer:“I’m the eternal optimist,” he said. “There are many ways to get financing if you have a good project.” Lionsgate vice chairman Michael Burns noted that “The Hunger Games” had been a milestone for the 15-year-old company, adding that he would often tell CEO Jon Feltheimer, “All we need is one hit franchise.” Sierra/Affinity topper Nick Meyer, whose company is handling international sales on “Place Beyond the Pines,” told the audience that the indie sector has expanded significantly in recent years — in part due to the enormous growth of the international box office in such markets as Brazil, India, Russia and China (or the so-called the BRIC countries). “When I started in the business 16 years ago, the international side of the business was a throwaway,” Meyer noted. Those markets still need the six major studios to deliver franchise tentpoles, he added, because no other entities have that capability. Meyer also said that the emergence of the indie sector means that filmmakers opting to go that direction wind up with more autonomy — though that comes with the need to deliver A-level product. “You have to hit across the board on all levels,” he added. Panelist Brian Stearns, co-head of the entertainment group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, asserted that the growth of the indie sector has also led to more rigor and discipline in projects. Burns warned that access to more money for financing films can actually create industrywide problems because it leads to more low-quality films being released. “It becomes more difficult to find the right release date, which is the most important aspect of distribution,” he said. Burns also said that the people working in show business are driven by the hope of delivering an unexpected hit. “Films like ‘Juno,’ ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ ‘Paranormal Activity’ — those are what keep us going,” he added.