In another example of the strengthening ties between talent agencies and production financing, Screen Capital Intl. and the William Morris Agency announced on Saturday the creation of a $100 million film-financing company that will be used to fund up to 50 movies over the next five years.
The Cassian Elwes- and Rena Ronson-led William Morris Independent will rep the venture, Incentive Filmed Entertainment, and supply a steady stream of potential projects.
Initially, films will have production budgets under $15 million. WMAi will rep worldwide rights to all films financed by the fund.
Incentive, which opened for business on May 15, is backed by a line of credit arranged by JPMorgan Chase, with the U.K.-based Aramid Entertainment Fund, in which Screen Capital is a major shareholder, and private investors providing the balance of the capital.
Incentive also will take advantage of domestic and foreign tax incentives.
First film to be financed by Incentive is Griffin Dunne’s “The Position.” Pic, produced by Nick Wechsler, begins lensing this summer.
California state labor regulations bar conflicts of interests by talent agencies, meaning agents can’t produce projects that would hire clients. However, the issue of film financing isn’t addressed in the regs.
The fund was announced in Cannes by WMA chair-CEO Jim Wiatt and his team, along with Screen Capital managing director and Aramid chair David Molner. Wiatt and Molner assured everyone that Incentive’s relationship with WMA is on safe ground. Wiatt said his agency is not acting as a producer.
He said the launch couldn’t come at a better time, considering the slowdown in production because of labor unrest and a decision by some of the major studios to cut back on the number of movies they make. Also in recent days, Warner Bros. shuttered specialty divisions Warner Independent and Picturehouse.
“This financing facility will be used to create employment opportunities,” Wiatt said. “We are not going to be producers, and we won’t be picking the movies. We’re actually representing the fund.”
Former Intermedia general counsel-chief operating officer Noel Lohr has been tapped to lead Incentive. She will join Molner and producer Robert F. Simon on Incentive’s board of directors. William Morris won’t have a seat on the board.
Ronson and Elwes said having Incentive will streamline the process of securing film financing. In the past year, their unit has helped find financing for 27 films; doing such projects on a piecemeal basis is difficult and time-consuming. That’s not to say that WMAi won’t package some projects without Incentive, however.
Molner said WMAi’s involvement is crucial to the success of the fund, noting Ronson’s and Elwes’ experience in packaging indie projects.
“This is a great way of harnessing talent and a steady stream of product without reinventing the wheel,” Molner said.
Specialty distributors in Cannes said the creation of Incentive is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, it means distribs don’t have to become involved early on in the production process. On the other, it could give William Morris more control and power at a time when production has slowed down because of ongoing labor unrest and a weak overall economy.
Last year, former Endeavor agent Modi Wiczyk and partner Asif Satchu’s Media Rights Capital said it was committing $250 million to eight films. Endeavor has a minor stake in MRC, and many of Endeavor’s clients are involved with MRC projects.
Screen Capital, a film-financing specialist that advises on domestic and foreign tax incentives and media lending, worked closely with WMAi in executing the business plan for Incentive.
Screen Capital designed the structure and sourced the investment capital, and it is intent on monetizing production tax incentives and other “soft money” benefits.