Sunny climate for indie pic investing

Panel agrees that money is accessible

Judging by the number of hands that went up when moderator, Celluloid Dreams’ Charlotte Mickie asked how many “producers” were in attendance at Monday’s Variety Cannes Conference Series sesh on financing independent film, this wasn’t just another panel, it was a lifeline for many looking to get their movies off the ground. And the prognosis for indie projects is better than in a long time.

“In terms of financing movies, it’s one of the best times I’ve ever seen for several reasons,” said Miramax Intl. exec VP Jere Hausfater. “You have the international marketplace, which is back and vibrant for the right movies. You have access to a lot of soft money in a lot of different areas and a lot of civilian money in high net worth individuals who want to get into the film business.” The exec added that if he had been sitting on the panel three years ago he would have said the opposite was true. One of the key reasons, he said, is even with big ticket movies like “The Aviator” and “Alexander,” no one has taken a bath.

“No international distributor has taken a write off on a movie in a significant period of time unlike a few years ago with movies like ‘Ali’ and ‘K-19’,” Hausfater said.

Endgame COO Douglas Hansen agreed there is a lot of money floating out there now but cautioned that it would be wise to treat international investors with respect, something that hasn’t always happened in the past.

“What Hollywood and what we as independent people do so poorly is really treat financial money in a responsible way. We take money from rich people and burn it in the basement,” he said, adding it’s best to build relationships for multiple pictures.

The panel sponsored by IFP New York, IFC and Comerica also included IFC production exec Caroline Kaplan, producer Jon Kilik, Comerica prexy Morgan Rector and Grosvenor Park COO Lee Solomon.

Solomon said making movies was still a good bet in the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand among others due to great tax incentives. And in the States?

“I certainly think New York, Louisiana and New Mexico are there already. You can monetize the credit and get cash up front, ” he said. Louisiana in particular, he noted, may make the South a new filmmaking mecca.

Mickie pointed out the large number of films set in the South at this year’s Sundance as an interesting trend that suggests creative inspiration has now met financial needs and more producers are turning to the region to make movies.

But location isn’t everything. Investors are looking for tangible reasons to open their wallets. And stars help.

Kilik said his “Babel,” now shooting with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, was a hard sell initially.

“Once we had bigger stars we got more interest and finally got it financed. It became the package and the worth of the movie, not the budget that got it going,” he said.

Rector said the business has really become a worldwide opportunity for those who are financially creative and come up with an economic model that works.

“The last 10 years has seen the globalization of the independent film business and now it’s really accelerating,” he said.