Over the past 18 months, I’ve watched countless film projects rise, flounder and fall with the promise of financing. The prevailing wisdom is that things have gotten so bad with oil, gas and real estate investment that film finance actually looks like a safe bet for equity investors. Oh, if it were only so. Film investment for equity players continues to be a very risky play.
Although debt financing continues to be a dim prospect, Comerica Bank, Union Bank and National Bank of California continue to back certain films from reliable players. From my perspective however, the end of debt financing of motion pictures came almost three months after the collapse of AIG and Lehman Brothers when the US rescued the bank in mid-finance of a movie I was working on. The bank ultimately financed the picture though I like to think that the collective efforts of the lawyers, the bank executives and the producers involved had a hand in getting the deal done.
Depending on the day, sheer will to make things happen is either over-rated or under-rated. And so it goes with film financing.
I’ve reviewed countless Stand By Letters of Credit (SBLC’s), real estate investments restructured for film finance, Sole Trader deals out of the UK, nine figure film funds from – depending on the day – Vancouver, Taipei, Shanghai and New Jersey and sources of black box financing where, for reasons not entirely clear to me, the identities of the investors and the financing methods used are veiled in secrecy. Not one of these sources of financing has come through. For its part, black box financing may be illegal or even dangerous. In a post-Bernie Madoff world, you just can’t leave the risk of financial games to chance. Get transparency or don’t do the deal.
Some of these prospective investors may prove to be the real deal but at best, they are all long shots. Do your due diligence so you know who you’re dealing with, the sources of financing and whether the investor is prepared to provide you with references (i.e., prior projects they’ve financed) and proof that their funds actually exist through escrow or bank confirmation. Some financiers may be more forthcoming than others and at some point, given the limited resources of time, money, knowledge and passion, you may have to go with your gut in deciding whether to proceed.
I have to believe that a number of would-be film investors are earnest and either don’t know that they don’t have money to invest or get cold feet at the prospect of closing; while others may be lookey-loos who simply want to do lunch at The Ivy and play the producer game but really don’t have any money to invest.
But still they come with promises that entice producers and other creatives. Just make sure you don’t get stuck picking up the check.