Los Cabos, Mexico — The film finance conversation seems to be finally moving on from hand-wringing over the shrinking parts of the business to digging into new models of funding projects. The beginnings of film distribution and financing merging with the TV business, alternatives to theatrical and brands funding projects were a few of the fresh themes that emerged from Los Cabos Film Festival’s Film Finance Panel on Saturday.
Moderator John Hopewell of Variety posited that the international market has never been more challenging, and panelists agreed that pre-sales to countries including Italy, Germany and France have become nearly impossible for many projects. “Some of those reliable markets are just not reliable anymore,” said Participant Media exec VP of production Jonathan King. But a few fresh areas are providing meat for discussion among producers and agents.
TV MEETS FILM: “There’s a real fluidity” now between TV and film projects, said UTA’s Bec Smith. Until recently, the film world didn’t consider the television realm as an option for financing, which Smith says is now an exciting option. “Behind the Candelabra” was a good example of that, she said, since it went theatrical in several countries.
“Every exec is aggressively wanting to get into TV,” Smith said, and more independent packaging agents are getting into the middle of that.
NOT JUST THEATRICAL: “There have never been more options for how to assemble distribution,” said CAA’s Micah Green. Though more of Netflix’s and Amazon’s deals have been for TV projects so far, they’re increasingly looking at feature films and documentaries too. “You don’t have to think just about selling to traditional distributors,” said Green.
King said that though traditional theatrical distribution releases are still popular, it’s possible that an iTunes premiere, for example, would make more money and more people would see it.
BRAND FUNDING STILL IN INFANCY: Having corporations back projects could be an incredible opportunity, the panelists said, but it’s just getting started with a few experiments. One of those is from influential Mexican production company AG Films, whose Raul Del Alto described a TV series his company is producing. A liquor brand will finance a whopping 80% of the series’ production budget, so producers are looking to create an “organic” storyline that establishes a character’s taste for fine beer or spirits without overemphasizing the brand name.
King sounded a note of caution about such deals (Del Alto invoked but rejected the idea of “prostitution”), saying that Participant would prefer to possibly have a brand come afterwords to boost the reach of a marketing campaign instead of being involved in the production itself, as Stonyfield Yogurt did with “Food, Inc.”
Panelists finished with some of advice for filmmakers and producers looking to get their independent films financed.
Among the nuggets:
— “Learn to speak Mandarin” or at least explore ways to tap into the “humungous” upcoming opportunities in China;
— Exploit soft money whenever possible by choosing the right location and talent to take advantage of local incentives
— Producers working with lesser-known directors or actors should try to find an”uninformed investor,” since sometimes it takes someone willing to take a chance to discover new talent.