Trio of players reveal film funding strategies at Berlin fest
BERLIN — Yes, movies got sold at Berlin, especially a brace of star-studded actioners and high-profile art pics. But the most striking sign of vitality in the international independent biz today came from elsewhere: France’s banking sector.A trio of players revealed financing strategies and services, as well as specific deals that indicate the film biz’s viability. StudioCanal’s exiting head of French and European productions Leo Glowinski unveiled consultancy 22h22, which aims to structure co-production financing of European tentpoles and big-budget U.S. movies made on the continent. Backup Media Group, a film consultancy and investment shingle, established the B Media Global film fund, which will invest in non-French movies. And Natixis Cofidis, a bank specializing in film and TV projects, confirmed several financing deals, including cash-flowing part or all of Wild Bunch’s minimum guarantees on three hot Berlin prospects: the untitled James Gray project produced by Worldview Entertainment, starring Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner; “The White Elephant,” from Argentine helmer Pablo Trapero and produced by Spain’s Morena Films; and “Only God Forgives,” from Danish helmer Nicolas Winding Refn and produced by Denmark’s Space Rocket Nation. During the past decade, Paris has become an international crossroads, says Backup partner Joel Thibout. “Its sales agents finance U.S. indie, Latin American and Asian films. We’ve learned how to manage investment with sales agents and can now enjoy relations with nearly all of them.” After studios closed their speciality units, some U.S. banks began to finance bigger-budget mainstream fare, while French financiers often target more upscale or far-flung projects. French banks can afford to be more adventurous on international pics co-produced by France. On French-qualifying films, half of their loans are guaranteed by France’s state-backed credit institute Ifcic, says Franck Priot of national film commission Film France. Natixis Cofidis, 22h22 and Backup Film Group — all based in Paris — vary radically in scale and operations. A giant in European film finance, Natixis Coficine lent €700 million ($917 million) in 2011 to Europe’s TV and film industry. B Media Global is smaller, and sources high-net-worth individuals as well as debt financing. It will take an equity position in foreign movies, putting up gap financing. Thibout says B Media Global aims to structure gap financing for U.S. indie pics budgeted at $3 million-$10 million and European films in the $1.3 million-$19.7 million range. Meanwhile, 22h22, a boutique operation, won’t put up financing, but will advise on and broker deals: TV presales, distributor pickups and multilateral European co-productions. But there are challenges. Glowinski, who structured “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Unknown” as co-productions for StudioCanal, notes that while production and marketing costs are increasing, classic exploitation revenues — TV, DVD — are decreasing. “Unless it’s low-budget or a big comedy, French films can no longer be financed just out of France,” he says. One solution 22h22 will pursue is to access local incentives and co-production coin in Europe. Sales agent Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, a Films Distribution partner, agrees that these days, “companies have to look for bigger fish in a bigger ocean, and they can’t just fish on one shore.” Beyond the U.S., the film biz is growing dynamically. At Berlin, there was a scaling up in budget for a raft of Latin American movies: “The White Elephant;” Chilean Alicia Scherson’s “The Future,” co-produced by Chile’s Jirafa; and Argentinean Lucia Puenzo’s “Wakolda,” pre-sold by Pyramide. .”We’ve seen the emergence of Brazil as a film financing force,” says Christophe Vidal, Natixis Coficine director, noting that Brazilian producers regularly co-produce bigger-budget films with Europeans. The smart money in Gaul is clearly betting on the world.