Global biz bouncing back

Film finance toppers upbeat at Cannes

The money is bouncing back after a couple of years up against the ropes, said speakers at the International Film Finance Forum presented by Winston Baker in association with Variety in Cannes on Friday.

In a global update “as the pendulum swings back,” speakers said the industry had reasons to be more positive, pointing to an active market compared to previous years.

“When putting finance together for a film, and this is truly a global business, for the past three to four years, we’ve been putting America in as zero,” said Prescience Film Finance topper Paul Brett.

“That’s because America was worth exactly the same amount as Indonesia but at least you knew you were going to get a deal in Indonesia.”

But Brett pointed to the activity of the recent markets — Toronto, Sundance, SXSW — and said this was indicative of the fact that the U.S. was buying again.

“What has happened during the downturn in America is that there has been a rationalization and an extreme change in the distribution landscape, with new players.”

Daniel Baur of K5 Media Group, said: “We now see a market which is coming back which is very encouraging. For us to pick the right projects is the best thing to do.”

K5’s Paul Walker project, “Vehicle 19,” has already sold out across the world after just a few days of sales in the market.

Incentive influx

In a panel discussion on tax incentives, Joe Chianese, senior VP with Entertainment Partners said reports of the decline of tax incentives and soft money deals — particularly those offerd across 42 of the 50 U.S. states — have been exaggerated.

“There have been many reports that incentives are disappearing or being drastically reduced, but actually there are more positive changes happening than negative in the U.S.”

A total of 42 states still offer incentives and two of the eight without them, Nevada and Nebraska, are preparing to introduce them.

Even Michigan’s 42% rebate — much criticized as unsustainable — will not be scrapped by a new state governor, only capped at $25 million annually.

And in Puerto Rico — where a 40% incentive for local spend has been pulling in productions for the past 10 years — the cap has been raised from $15 million to $50 million a year and a new unlimited 20% rebate on talent — stars, doubles and stuntmen, has just been introduced.

Puerto Rico also has long standing co-production treaties with Spain, Mexico and Argentina.

In Europe, apart from major players like the U.K., France and Luxembourg, Serbia has just introduced a 15% rebate scheme, the Czechs and Hungarians offer up to 25% cash back on local spend and Croatia will bring it its own 20% scheme in December.

Even the Irish — which needed a $125 billion European Union bailout after the global crisis crashed its economy — have not abandoned their generous 28% investor-based relief scheme that has been paid upfront on the first day of production for the past 24 years and has just been extended until the end of 2015.

Open to television as well as features and with no draconian cultural tests — TV hits such as “The Tudos, “Game of Thrones” and “Camelot” all shot in the emerald isle — Ireland’s scheme remains buoyant.

In zero-tax culture Abu Dhabi, the government is mulling ways of attracting producers to help boost its nascent film industry.

“Film and television are seen as an industry that can help the diversification away from oil; Abu Dhabi is not widely seen on the screen and can play its part in the current focus on the Middle East,” said David Shepheard of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission.

Royal distribution success

Success of “The King’s Speech” dominated discussion at the final panel — “Worldwide and U.S. distribution: striking a deal in the new environment.”

TWC’s David Glasser said one encouraging sign is that audiences have shown a willingness to support other dramas such as “The Fighter.” He also said “Speech” began skewing younger late in its run, thanks to altered marketing.

“‘The King’s Speech’ would normally be what we’d call a newspaper movie,” he added. “Nowadays you really have to market with surgical precision.”

Icon Group’s Stewart Till said buyers have become far more selective. “‘The King’s Speech’ would not have done as well five, 10 years ago. Buyers want surefire hits. If you’re not hitting the bullseye, they’re not interested.”

Glasser also said instant communication has generated a profound shift in word of mouth. “We used to see drops between Friday and Saturday and now we see them from 7 p.m. to midnight on Friday.”

Lleju’s William Perkins III said he believes that diverse of ethnicities will expand significantly over the next three years.

Dave McNary contributed to this report.