There’s one certainty about the indie sector as the Toronto Intl. Film Festival opens: Opportunity awaits.
With the big six Hollywood studios making fewer pics and focusing more and more on tentpole franchises, the independent sector is taking advantage and expanding.
On July 30, Emmett/Furla Films (headed by Randall Emmett and George Furla, one of the most prolific producers of indie fare) and Envision Entertainment announced they had raised an additional $275 million in equity for their year-old fund with the aim of maintaining its aggressive pace of financing films. The financing was announced 11 months after the same principals disclosed during Toronto that they’d partnered to establish a $250 million revolving equity and debt fund to finance a slate of “high-end, star-driven” commercial features.
Since then, Emmett/Furla has had eight films in production, with four — “End of Watch,” “Lay the Favorite,” “Alex Cross” and “Broken City” — to be released in the next few months.
“We love Randall’s deal,” says Robert Beaumont, president of Lightning Entertainment. “It showed that there’s a lot of enthusiasm about the marketplace, and it gives me ammunition to tell people ‘now is the time to step up.’ ”
Additionally, the festival will screen an array of major titles financed by the indies such as “Dredd,” “The Master,” “Looper” and “End of Watch” — viewed as high- calibre commercial films. Time-travel project “Looper,” financed by Endgame, is the opening-night film.
“I’m a Toronto veteran so this is huge for us and the indie sector,” says Endgame topper James Stern. “We’ve done something that feels like a studio film but is still out of the box and completely unique.”
Finance-production companies will use the festival to kick-start high-profile projects, following in the footsteps of such pics as Formula One racing drama “Rush,” directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth with Exclusive Media and Cross Creek Pictures financing. Budget is in the $50 million range.
“A few years ago, ‘Rush’ would have been a studio film,” says Alex Walton, president of Exclusive Media. “We started putting it together at Toronto two years ago, then announced it a year ago during Toronto.”
Exclusive is coming into Toronto with “Hit & Run,” “At Any Price” and “End of Watch” screening. Sales companies are prepping slates aimed at satisfying the more commercial appetite that buyers have acquired in the wake of worldwide hits like “The Hunger Games,” the “Twilight” franchise and “The Artist.”
Brian O’Shea of sales-production company the Exchange says successful films financed from outside the Big Six studios fuel more of the same.
“When you have something like ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Magic Mike’ that overperform, they have a profound impact in the indie sector,” he says. “Essentially, they keep the dream alive.”
Worldview Entertainment topper Christopher Woodrow, whose banner is financing “Blood Ties” and “Devil’s Knot,” marvels at how the financing of the indie market has rebounded since the depths of the recession.
“Financing opportunities are the polar opposite of three years ago and there’s a large appetite among high-net-worth and institutional investors,” he says. “We’ve had a large number of hedge funds come into our office. There’s a lot of capital right now because what is being offered is an attractive asset with solid rate of return in the mid-teens.”
Wayfare Entertainment topper Ben Browning agrees.
“The big studios have less-diverse slates so the mid-budget mainstream movies have started to migrate to the independents,” Browning says. “The international markets have really started to grow. That’s why broad concept movies like ‘Rush’ are getting made. And equity financiers are getting very active, particularly in countries that have healthy economics. The real skill is pairing content with what’s appropriate culturally because movies have to have an international life.”
Lisa Wilson,of sales-financing company the Solution says Toronto’s emergence as a viable market — equivalent to Cannes, Berlin and the American Film Market — has provoked a change in how the business conducts itself during August.
“We are seeing people defer vacations,” she says.”It used to be that everyone was out all August. Now, they’re out from mid-July to mid-August so that the can get ready for the market.”
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