Capital idea for biz investing

Co. hopes to minimize risk by applying coin to marketing, distrib'n costs

SYDNEY — Australians generally are leery of risking their hard-earned cash in Aussie films, with good reason, even when they’ll get a tax write-off. So what are the chances of finding investors for projects where there’s no tax concession?

Pretty good, according to execs at Content Capital, who are confident they’ve come up with a formula which will attract wealthy investors.

The company plans to issue a prospectus in early June to partly fund three movies and an Imax pic. Investors won’t be offered any tax benefit — but they will be assured of a “commercial rate of return,” says Content Capital chief exec Tim Benjamin.

Until the prospectus is approved by the regulators, Benjamin and co-director David Court won’t identify the projects or reveal the terms of the offer. But Court says, “We’re not looking for a huge amount of capital, but we think we’ll get the backing of the big end of town.” He indicated the strategy will be to minimize and quantify the risk for investors by funneling most of the coin into marketing and distribution costs, rather directly into production budgets.

In line with that approach, the firm is launching Lightscape, headed by film and TV vet Hugh McGowan, to distribute Australian films in all media in Oz — primarily those emanating from its financing and talent-development arms. The intention is for Lightscape to handle three or four films annually, which might occasionally include titles from other sources.

Benjamin explains that move by saying, “We want to give investors earlier returns and more certain returns by moving them up the distribution chain.”

Its talent arm aims to fund development for six to eight creatives, including producers and writer-directors. “Moulin Rouge” producer Martin Brown, who formed his own shingle a year ago after a 10-year association with Baz Luhrmann, is the first beneficiary of that arrangement. It’s seeding the development of “Brothers in Arms,” a pic based on the true story of a war between biker gangs in Sydney in 1984, to be produced by Brown and helmed by Michael Jenkins.

Content Capital was one of two firms (the other was the Macquarie Film Corp.) licensed by the government in 1999 to seek funds for film and TV productions, giving investors a 100% tax write-off. It raised $2.7 million from local investors and $520,000 from Japan’s Softbank.

That coin, which must be fully spent by June 30, the end of this financial year, has been used in ways which typify the firm’s “investing upstream” approach. As examples, it ponied up Oz P&A costs for Samantha Lang’s pic “Monkey’s Mask”; funded the local marketing and international sales advance for Robert Connolly’s “The Bank,” and invested in Yoram Gross-EM.TV animated series “Old Tom,” secured by a distribution guarantee.