Some call it “super-gap,” some call it “mezz” (short for mezzanine — the slice between senior debt and equity). But whatever the name, the financiers who provide this riskiest kind of debt are the guys who really make indie films happen in the tricky $10 million-$30 million budget range.
Most of them wrap other forms of lending — conventional gap, discounting of presales and tax credits, sometimes bridge finance — around the mezzanine to mitigate their risk, typically providing around 65%-75% of budgets.
Some have even started to deliver equity investment, enabling them to act as a one-stop shop by fully financing production. It’s an arcane but essential part of the indie film biz. Here are a few of the most active players.
Key execs: Simon Fawcett, Yu-Fai Suen
History: Founded in 2006, with a U.K.-based management team repping a Cayman Islands fund. Fawcett was finance director of Pathe U.K., Suen was chief operating officer of Momentum Pictures.
Backers: Screen Capital Intl. (David Molner), Stonehenge Capital
Typical deal: Funding the tax credit, pre-sale contracts, gap/super-gap and bridge finance, covering around 65%-70% of budgets.
Deal volume: Raised more than $300 million so far from institutional investors to bankroll 30 films in the $10 million-$30 million range, roughly two-thirds in the U.S. and the rest in Europe, predominantly the U.K. Titles include “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” “The Edge of Love,” “The Secret of Moonacre,” “Five Dollars a Day.”
Special relationships: Aramid has a five-year, 50-pic deal with Incentive Filmed Entertainment, a partnership between William Morris Independent and Screen Capital. It also has an informal alliance for U.S. distribution of its projects via Courtney Solomon’s After Dark, which has output deals with Lionsgate and MGM — first film to go this route is “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.” Aramid also co-funded the management buyouts of IM Global and Live Nation’s U.S. theater interests.
Latest moves: Aramid is launching a second fund this month, designed for longer-term securitization deals in film, TV and music publishing.
Key execs: Don Starr, Dan Taylor
History: Started in 1982 as a tax financier in Canada, moved to the U.K. in the late ’90s to ride the sale-and-leaseback wave, then switched to Los Angeles in 2005.
Backer: New York hedge fund Fortress
Typical deal: A mixture of gap, super-gap, presales and tax credit discounting. Will invest equity to provide 100% finance if a film has a solid U.S. distribution deal backed by a significant P&A guarantee.
Deal volume: 45 films over the past four years, with a total deal value of $500 million. Fully financed two films: Ed Zwick’s “Defiance” and Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s “Disaster Movie” with combined budgets of $65 million.
Soundbite: “The new world is that the studios aren’t financing the middle ground,” says Starr. “We believe you can make a film for $30 million-$35 million that the studios would make for $60 million-$65 million.”
NEWBRIDGE FILM CAPITAL
Key execs: Diane Stidham, Danny Mandel
History: Launched mid-2006 in L.A. Stidham previously ran film banking for ABN-Amro; Mandel worked for Union Bank of California
Backers: Merrill Lynch, Rizvi Traverse Management
Typical deal: Newbridge is a super-gap/mezzanine fund (reportedly $50 million), providing as much as 40% of budgets.
Deal volume: 18 films to date, mostly in the $10 million-$20 million range but going as high as $50 million. Aims to do 12-18 deals a year. Pics backed include “Death Defying Acts,” “Disgrace,” “Bratz,” “Fireflies in the Garden” and “Flashbacks of a Fool.”
Special relationships: Newbridge has common shareholders with ICM but is an independent venture and works with the indie packaging arms of all the major agencies.
OCEANA MEDIA FINANCE
Key execs: Myles Nestel, Rodney Payne
History: Founded June 2007 in L.A. Nestel and Payne were formerly at Cobalt Media, and before that at NatWest/Coutts bank.
Backers: American Capital Strategies, providing $100 million capital
Typical deal: Core business is mezzanine finance, but also underwrites gap, pre-sales and soft money/tax credits. Can provide P&A finance for selected films.
Deal volume: Three films financed so far: “Spread,” “The Greatest” and “Tell Tale.” Target is to bankroll six to eight films a year, plus one or two P&A deals.
Special relationships: Slate deals with equity players Barbarian Films and Singapore-based RGM, enabling Oceana to provide one-stop financing for producers.
Soundbite: “We’re capitalized with a strong backer and cash-flow positive after the first year. We’re not a brokerage, which means we can be selective, rather than playing the margins on high volumes,” says Nestel.