For City National Bank, Cannes is as much about fact-gathering as it is shaking hands.
Three of its entertainment division bankers — David Acosta, senior VP and team leader; David Oliver, VP and senior relationship manager; and Norman Starr, senior relationship manager — are hitting the Croisette this year to get first-hand knowledge of what buyers are looking for in the upcoming year. That data helps the bankers select which individual films they want to finance, and helps sniff out sales projections that aren’t quite accurate.
“If we hear that period piece dramas are just not doing well in Asia, for example … and the sales agent comes to us and gives us some number in Asia and it seems crazy high, we wouldn’t know that unless (we went to) Cannes,” said Acosta.
Single-picture lending has seen more competition in recent months as more banks have crept back into the film space. Because of this, good projects can now sometimes borrow 5% or 10% more than just a couple of years ago.
But City National has more than two decades of experience in the film business — its first pics were “Purple Rain” and “Driving Miss Daisy” — and the bank still looks for certain assurances, especially for gap financing, before it commits to a project.
“We like to see at least two or three major territories that have been sold,” Acosta said. “We look at that as sort of a proof of concept.”
The bank has financed close to 10 pics that are selling at Cannes this year, and Acosta estimates that’s a slight uptick from previous years.
“You really need the bigger territories in proving that this deal is going to sell,” Oliver said. “Maybe you have two or three larger territories, but that’s only $2 million or $3 million. But we would look at that and say that there’s certainly potential.”
All banks lending to the entertainment space are more cautious than they were before the recession hit in 2008, and City National is no exception. Acosta and Oliver want to make sure to avoid disaster even when a film doesn’t sell as well as they expect it to.
“It depends on what our exposure is on the film,” Acosta said. “Generally it’s not the end of the world … We usually have plenty of excess collateral.”
Both bankers expect the market to be robust this year, but stopped short of predicting what would be the most popular projects.
“Honestly, we just don’t know until we get there,” Acosta said.