×

Film Finance Forum: Challenge for indies

Ford sez financiers drawn to bigger pics

While his keynote speech on Thursday may have been informative, IM Global’s Stuart Ford couldn’t have made the indie producers in attendance at the Film Finance Forum very happy.

“As a financier, we’ve really gravitated towards what, by independent standards, are very expensive films,” Ford told the audience at the summit, presented by Winston Baker in association with Variety. He noted that pics with smaller budgets are less likely to have internationally commercial elements like a big star or big special effects. “(We have) north of $200 million of our own money in movies that are not budgeted under $20 million.”

Ford said that a number of factors have made international sales agents more picky. No one knows how VOD and emerging platforms will replace the drop-off in DVD revenue and piracy has grown in formerly strong marketplaces like Italy, Mexico and Spain. On top of that, as the international box office becomes more important to a pic’s ancillary revenue, investors often want safe bets likely to do well overseas.

“We all hope that digital platforms and the new VOD platforms, as revenue streams, will sooner rather than later supplant what DVD was,” Ford said. “But we’re not there yet. It’s going to be several more years before we’re in the zone.”

That also means that large sales companies like IM Global are unlikely to take on risky films. Now that it invests a “significant amount” of its own capital in films, Ford said its made a point of being very conservative, despite some slight fluctuations in certain territories.

“I think there’s a little bit of a danger in film financing circles to assume that the foreign marketplace has really bounced back in the last 12 to 18 months,” he said. “A lot of distributors have come back into the game internationally… and it’s generated an uptick in sales, but it’s a very fragile uptick. Despite the fact that the volume of business has increased, there aren’t the same reliable outlets.”

While the international B.O. is more important than ever, distributors in key territories aren’t faring much better than those in the U.S.

“They’re beset by all the same challenges as the whole distribution world transitions in new directions,” said Ford, noting that growth at the international B.O. is coming mainly from emerging territories like Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Russia. He cited Korea, where residents have access to a speedy broadband connection, as a place where digital downloads could provide a reliable revenue stream. China, home to a million urban residents without easy access to movie theaters, has in particular opened up its notoriously closed film gates to U.S. investors, partnering with U.S. companies to co-produce films, invest in U.S. media and build new screens.

Ford also said that the fact that sales agents can’t rely on certain distributors to pick up a set number of films each year has only made sales agents more picky, an unpleasant fact for many indie producers in attendance at the New York conference.

“What would you do if someone came to you with a historical drama about a woman?” asked one audience member.

“Go to Focus Features,” shot back Ford, whose company is handling Madonna’s “W.E.” “The moment you slip below premium quality packages, you can fall off a cliff really quickly.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Benjamin Wallfisch - scoring session, Abbey

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch Signs With Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has signed with the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency (GSA) for worldwide representation, in partnership with London-based agency COOL Music Ltd. A top composer, whose scoring credits include “It Chapter Two,” Shazam!” Hellboy,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hostile Planet,” among others, Wallfisch has worked on over 75 feature films and is a member of the BAFTA [...]

  • The Moneychanger

    Toronto Film Review: ‘The Moneychanger’

    Uruguayan auteur Federico Veiroj (“The Apostate,” “Belmonte”) broadens his usual intimate dramatic scope to diminishing returns for his fifth feature, “The Moneychanger,” . Adapted from a novella by compatriot Juan Enrique Gruber, the period (mid-1950s to mid-1970s) tale centers on the eponymous character, an amoral currency exchanger, who winds up laundering some of the dirtiest [...]

  • Send Me to the Clouds

    Film Review: ‘Send Me to the Clouds’

    The social and economic pressures felt by China’s “leftover women” — referring to those older than 26 and unmarried — are examined in “Send Me to the Clouds,” a rewarding dramedy about a 30-ish journalist seeking financial reward and sexual fulfillment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Bold by mainland standards for presenting a positive [...]

  • Jamie Bell Without Remorse

    Jamie Bell Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Bell is in final negotiations to join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel “Without Remorse.” Stefano Sollima, who most recently helmed “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” is directing from a script by “Sicaro” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. As previously announced, Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known [...]

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. “It [...]

  • Todd Phillips Joaquin Phoenix Joker Movie

    What's Woker Than 'Joker'? Film Critics Made Everything Political at Fall Festivals

    “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Joaquin Phoenix, playing a deranged incel version of the DC supervillain in “Joker,” the unconventional comic book movie that’s sucked up much of the air from the fall festival circuit. Like an aggro caricature of the “involuntary celibates” who troll message boards online, [...]

  • Running Against the Wind

    Young Africans' Dreams Are Focus of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda Oscar Picks

    Films about young Africans trying to fulfill their dreams in the face of war, poverty, tradition and other forms of adversity have been submitted for Oscar consideration by three East African nations. The selections by Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda to compete in the international feature film category reflect the relative youth of filmmaking in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content