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Investors going steady

Film Finance Forum East

In the annals of Hollywood history, the relationships between investors and production companies could be pegged as brief, tumultuous affairs. But, there have been some equity players and production toppers who have managed to romance one another for years in the biz. As in any relationship, the ones between billionaire moguls and Hollywood filmmakers are filled with ups, downs and lessons learned.

Fred Smith and Alcon Entertainment have been romancing one another for more than 15 years, but the relationship has reached a turning point. Alcon, after judiciously using FedEx mogul Smith’s money and achieving box office success, no longer relies on the Smith coin.

According to Alcon’s co-CEO and founder Andrew Kosove, pics including 2009’s “The Blind Side,” which cumed more than $300 million worldwide, and last year’s “The Book of Eli,” which grossed more than $157 million globally, have allowed the company to start living off of its library cash flows, and not its longtime equity investor.

“We’re using the receivables on our successful movies to make new movies,” Kosove says. “I expect to go off our own profits for the rest of the history of the business.”

Kosove and co-CEO and founder Broderick Johnson founded Alcon in 1997, backed by Smith, FedEx’s founder, chairman and CEO. Since then, the company has produced or co-produced 18 films, utilizing Smith’s equity and a $550 million debt facility the company secured in 2008.

Kosove says while keeping overhead costs low has been a key to the success of the Alcon/Smith partnership, open communication — as in any good relationship — has always played a critical role as well.

“One thing we’ve always done with Mr. Smith is be very upfront with the information. … He always knows that he has complete access to what’s going on,” says Kosove. “Fred told us many many years ago, ‘Don’t ever be afraid to give me bad news.’ ”

Another key to the successful Alcon/Smith relationship, Kosove says, is that Alcon treats Smith’s money as if it were its own. Kosove notes that the team tries to maintain a disciplined cost structure for Alcon projects — and that means finding creative ways to promote films in order to avoid overspending on P&A and talent, regardless of how much the company’s pics gross at the B.O.

“I think investors can understand that sometimes movies win and sometimes they lose, but they want to see the overwhelming majority of their capital going towards making movies. … If you walked into Alcon today, you would have no idea there was any difference in the financial success of the company than if you walked in here pre-‘Blind Side.’ ”

Though Alcon’s success has allowed Smith to be completely “off risk” according to Kosove, the Alcon topper still credits Smith’s “patience” when helping to launch the shingle back in the ’90s. “It’s been a very long relationship and Fred is far more than mine and Broderick’s financial backer,” says Kosovo. “He’s like family to us.”

Smith reciprocates the love: “I’m really proud of what Alcon has accomplished so far.”

A graduate of Yale, he quipped: “It obviously pains me greatly to say that about two Princeton guys.”

Highlights of the Film Finance Forum East

9-9:30 a.m. Welcoming Remarks: The Rich Rewards of a Risky Business by Peter Bart, Variety

9:30-10:45 a.m. Panel: Considering the Film Business as an Asset Class in the Current Market

Rafael Fogel, Falcon Investment Advisers; Brian DeCenzo, Goldman, Sachs & Co.; James Clayton, Ingenious Media Investments; Joe Woolf, One West Bank; Amir Malin, Qualia Capital; Moderated by Isaac Palmer, Mesa.

11:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Panel: Working With Studios: Exploring Equitable Co-Financing Opportunities

Sebastien Raybaud, Anton Capital; P. Clark Hallren, Clear Scope Partners; Marshall Sonenshine, Sonenshine Partners; Patrick Russo, the Salter Group; Stephen Kovach, Vine Alternative Investments; Moderated by Terrence L. Dugan, Morgan Lewis.

1:30-2:45 p.m. Panel: The Independent Vehicle: Evaluating Individual Film Projects and Start-up Companies

Teddy Schwarzman, Black Bear Pictures; Milan Popelka, FilmNation; Ian Stratford, Gray Krauss, Des Rochers; John Hadity, Hadity & Associates; William Perkins lll, Lleju Productions and Films; Moderated by Michael Hansen, Three Point Capital.

2:45-3:45 p.m. Panel: Utilizing the Return of Capital Markets: Structured Finance Options

Joseph N. Cohen, American Entertainment Investors; James Belfer, Dogfish Pictures; Peter Bevan, Entertainment Motion Pictures; Daniel Katz, Guggenheim Partners; Christa Thomas, SunTrust Bank; Moderated by Jay Cohen, Gersh Agency.

4-5 p.m. Panel: A Closer Look at Technology Developments: Special Effects, 3D and Beyond

Kat Popiel, IndieGoGo; Kenneth Kleinberg, Kleinberg Lange Cuddy & Klein; Douglas Trumbull, Trumbull Ventures; Moderated by D. Jeffrey Andrick, XL.Ent Media.

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