Sunday, March 28, 2010

Not Since You Theatrical -- This Week!

It's official! Our film Not Since You will be playing in the Cine theater in Athens, Georgia for a minimum of 2 weeks starting this Friday, April 2nd.

If you are in the Athens area, please check it out! Premiere and Gala tickets are available on the Cine Web site here. Daily showing tickets should be available soon.

Thank you for any and all support! Indie films can only survive if we support one another and go to the theater and see them. So thank you for helping to make Not Since You a success!

Here is the trailer:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Making a High Quality Film with a Still Camera? Yes!

I am in pre-production on an Ultra-Low Budget film (Diary of Preston Plummer) and we are looking to make the film with a still camera. That's right! A still camera. Specifically, the Canon 5D Mark II.

I have been hearing about this phenomenon for a few months now and then my director mentioned that he wanted to shoot on it. I thought, hmmm, that sounds both intriguing and scary at the same time.

Intriguing for the potential cost-savings and ease of use. Scary for what could go wrong, which could result in delays and bad footage, etc.

Here is the press release from Canon: Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR Camera

Check out this blog entry from Neptune Salad regarding this camera: great news for filmmakers, bad news for film.

I'd love thoughts from anyone who has used this camera to make a film. I'll report on how it goes for us!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Building a Better Reputation for the Ultra-Low Budget

The Ultra-Low Budget film suffers from a bad reputation. As independent filmmakers, we need to change this reputation.

I make Ultra-Low Budget films because they make creative and business sense to my company, especially in this recessionary period. I can choose to make a film instead of praying someone else will make it for me. There's a lot of power in that thinking and doing and we need to exercise that power wisely for everyone involved.

Lower budgets allow me to make dramas, a genre that is a hard sell. They allow me to hire incredible new talent that the larger budgets can't afford to invest in. And they allow me to build a library of product that my company can own forever. We have all heard the saying: Content is king!

So I am building content. But I'm not building just any old product. I am vetting my projects and making sure the script and talent are strong and that the project fits the Ultra-Low Budget business model. I can't make a $20 million film on an Ultra-Low Budget. And if my talent sucks then the film will suck.

Ultra-Low Budgets allow me to make good films in a timely manner. If I sat around and waited for all my larger budget projects to be funded, I would be waiting a long time and I would have no product to show for it and I wouldn't be learning how to be a better producer.

I agree that Ultra-Low Budgets are not for everyone. Many investors do not see the upside of backing small films with no-name talent. How does one make money from a film without box office magnets? It's called making great films and expending energy in marketing and selling them. We can do this. We just need to do it with some smart thinking and doing.

I challenge that the skeptics of the Ultra-Low Budget films are not investing in the right filmmakers. You could have the best script in the world but if the producer and director are clueless then there's typically no hope.

We filmmakers need to have more discretion with which projects we back. We need to ensure the scripts, the direction and the acting are strong -- even when there is no money. And it is possible. I know there are incredibly talented people out there who can make magic with $200k. We just need to pair them with the right producers.

Ultra-Low Budget films can be good and they can perform. We need to be diligent about making sure we create the best quality product that can then be sold to buyers and entertain an audience. It can be done. We just need to do it and do it right.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Importance of Giving in Order to Receive

I wanted to talk about the importance of giving to your fellow filmmakers. There will be many times that your colleagues will come to you and say, hey, can you help me out? Can you do this schedule for free or offer up ideas for cast for free or manage a little short, again, for free?

At first you may think, I don't have time for this. And you may be right. You may not have time for it. But you should really try to make the time.

You may also be thinking, I don't want to give my efforts away for free. They are worth something. Of course they are worth something and you will need to decide when you feasibly can do things for free for your colleagues. But definitely try to help whenever you possibly can.

We have all received a hand or a bit of kindness in our careers. Give it back. It helps them and you.

Why? Because, more often than not, you will get back what you have given and then some. You may get a future job referral from that person you helped. Or that person may be able to hire you the next time around. Or that person may work for free for you in turn. There are so many ways you can gain from giving a helping hand. It's just good karma. What goes around, comes around. And that's the truth!

Case in point, a friend of mine was in dire need of help in post on her film. I didn't even have to think about it. I said when and where do I need to be to help? I didn't care if I had to work for free because this friend had helped me out so many times that it was my turn. And because of that friendship, I have landed many paid gigs and I have a friend for life that I can bounce things off of with no concern that I am bothering her.

I have a number of people like my friend above I know I can call on and they will help me for no money. And in turn, they know I will be there for them when they need me. Plus we are all on the look out for spreading the wealth when the money is available. I have earned countless gigs from friends I have helped in the past and I have referred many jobs to those have worked hard for me -- and those who have gone above and beyond are in first position for my help. And that's why I go above and beyond so I can be in someone else's first position. See the pattern?

I bring this up because it's a reality in filmmaking that we are often required to do a million things without resources. And it's inevitable that you will be called upon by your colleagues to help out. And I'm saying, do it. Help them when you can. And don't be afraid to call on your colleagues for help. If they want to be in your first position, they will be there for you.

Of course, you should protect yourself from those who are moochers and takers (who never give back to you). And many times you may not be able to help. And that's okay. Just carry that spirit of giving and soon you will find you are receiving from the unlikeliest of places. And you will just feel good. Isn't that important as well?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Guest Blog: 3 Part Series from Jeff Steele, Expert on Film Finance, Part 3

How to Choose (a sister wife) or a Foreign Sales Agent

by Jeff Steele ( Film Closings Inc. will review only projects over $3m, and Magnet will only consider projects over $10m, but please no unsolicited materials.)

If the relationship between a producer and a financier is like a marriage, than the sales agent fills the role of your sister wife #2.

PRODUCER: Hey Jeff, I’ve got a $12m thriller with attachments, but I have a problem.

JEFF: A problem, eh? How can I help?

PRODUCER: I need the best sales agent; who do you recommend?

JEFF: Easy, you will want to work with ***** *****.

One of the more difficult questions I receive on a weekly basis is who I recommend as a sales agent. There are a lot of good agents out there – in fact, I would say that there are more good agents out there then there have been for quite some time. A lot of key sales people from established sales institutions have struck out on their own in the past couple years: Nick Meyer, Stu Ford, Glen Basner, to name a few. In the past, the general rule-of-thumb was that AFM was just an endless cycle of “same names, different companies.” But now, those names (along with Nick Chartier) have setup their own shops and are doing things different, and I think…better.

So who do I recommend? If you need somebody to make presales that a bank will lend against (i.e. “bankable”), then I would recommend one of the above names, as well as some of the established players. However, bankability is more than just who is selling. It’s actually a combination of factors:

1) Who is selling?

  • Do they have a history of hitting their Take numbers?
  • Can they collect?
  • Do they have enough quality product to keep buyers from stiffing them, or renegotiating?

2) Who is buying?

  • How deep are their pockets?
  • Do they pay on time?
  • Do they pay in full, or do they renegotiate?
  • Is the buyer paying a 20% deposit? If not, then there’s no incentive for them to pay the MG (or not renegotiate).
  • Who is lending?

NOTE: Different sales companies have relationships with different lenders. Some are universally bankable, some may just be bankable by the one or two lenders with whom they’ve had a long relationship with.

All of these factors can positively or adversely affect the credit discounting applied to presales (e.g. will the bank lend at 100% of the value of the contract, or 80%, 50%, or zilch.) As you can see, there are more to sales estimates than just the Take amount. You need to look deeper.

Sometimes a film may need a more hands-on/nurturing touch in order to find its audience, wherein somebody like Robbie Little or Cedric Jeanson would be a good choice. Their backgrounds and their relationships are top notch, but they prefer a more hands-on pipeline of product.

If you have a completed film, then there are agents who are very capable. These agents have chosen not to actively pursue the bankability business and are very capable of getting your film out to the market.

Obviously, there is a lot more to know on this topic and each film may have different needs, so there is no best.

However to be nice, I will leave you with 3 last important notes:

1. If a foreign sales agent ask you to pay anything upfront, move on. 2. It’s a good idea to include a portion of the foreign sales agents marketing fee in the film’s budget. 3. if you squeeze them too hard on their commission, they won’t be incentivized to sell your film – so if it’s not a commercial film, then give them a higher commission – you’ll be better off for it…

Or in other words… your sister wife needs to feel special too.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Guest Blog: 3 Part Series from Jeff Steele, Expert on Film Finance, Part 2

70% Gospel for Foreign Sales Estimates

by Jeff Steele ( Film Closings Inc. will review only projects over $3m, and Magnet will only consider projects over $10m, but please no unsolicited materials.)

PRODUCER: Hey Jeff, I’ve got an awesome $10m sci-fi project.

JEFF STEELE: How much is foreign?

PRODUCER: $6m, but it’s really more of a domestic play anyway.

JEFF STEELE: Yeah well, they all seem to be domestic plays when they're made for the wrong price.

PRODUCER: What!? Really!? Explain.

In the beginning, there were foreign sale estimates, and they were good…

These estimates are such a fundamental truth of goodness that it’s worth bolding: 70% of your budget should be covered by the gross-take-value (gtv) of your foreign sales estimates. And if you don’t, your film budget will be adjusted downward. And, you can’t fool me, I know what your thinking, “Jeff, don’t worry, I’ll just shop around for a sales agent that will give me my magical numbers.” Problem is your magicians won’t be able to deliver. So, to be smart about it! I prefer to recommend 75%-80% (gtv), due to the steep discounting lenders apply to presale contracts today. But 70% should be all film projects’ gospel. Why? Because, to mitigate your domestic risk to an acceptable one, you’ll need :

1. Elevated foreign values


2. Tax credit benefits and pre-sales

Don’t delude yourself, the domestic market is saturated with product right now (I’m sure you’ve heard of the $20m direct-to-videos) — the less reliance on the United States the better.

The 70% gospel has spoken; the gospel is good.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Guest Blog: 3 Part Series from Jeff Steele, Expert on Film Finance, Part 1

Top Independent Filmmakers, Take Finance Plans Seriously

by Jeff Steele ( Film Closings Inc. will review only projects over $3m, and Magnet will only consider projects over $10m, but please no unsolicited materials.)

As the CFO for one of the few equity funds actively financing Independent Films, it doesn’t take much for me or any other funder to tell the professionals from the amateurs. One look at a producer’s finance plan (as well as their choice of attorney) tells me right away what kind of closing I’m in for. Being that a film finance closing can last anywhere from 4-12 weeks, this can be a relatively clean, straight forward, experience, or 3 months of hell. Simply put, a finance plan is the best indicator of a producer’s financial I.Q. We need to know that you know how much money you really need and where you’re going to get it from.

You can no more produce a movie with a mediocre budget, than you can finance a movie without a finance plan. It’s the art and science of simultaneously predicting and preemptively satisfying the needs of lenders, investors, attorneys, and bond companies.

Producers tend to think in gross numbers and percentages:

Mr. Grossman says, “Hey Jeff, I’m making a movie for $10 million and I need $2m equity; the rest will be 20% tax credits from New Mexico, we’ll pre-sell 30%, and gap the rest.” These back-of-the-napkin numbers are fine between friends, but you will inevitably end up going back to your financier, hat in hand, to ask for more. You don’t want to be in this situation, especially if the lender or investor has already gone to their board for the initial amount. This is where most deals begin to die.

Because of this, funders have become much more sophisticated: they are either better at punching holes in packages, or they hire someone who is. To inspire confidence with your investors, you don’t have to be smart enough to build your own finance model; you just have to be smart enough to surround yourself with people who can.

The following is what you’ll need to calculate: (a) What your films budget is and (b) What type of capital you’ll be using

  1. Budget information
  2. Foreign pre-sales and estimates
  3. Tax credits
  4. Sources of equity
  5. Gap calculation
  6. Financing costs
  7. Credit discounting (presales and unsold territories)
  8. Bridge details
  9. Worldwide costs of sales (sales agents, etc.)

As you can see, a well thought-out finance plan is not just a requisite for the closing, but is also an essential roadmap that will guide you through the fund raising process. While it can allow you to play with certain variables, the market conditions will typically reveal how the film should be financed, as opposed to how you would like it to be financed. If done properly, your roadmap will lead you to the net-to-production. Remember, Net Net Net! Because, if it’s not net, it’s gross.