AFM Agents Panel - How to Find Financing for a Film

Panelists for the American Film Market's Panel on Agents and Packaging offered up a lively, and sometimes contentious, discussion about the realities of guiding a movie and/or television series from initial idea to a finished product that's ready for the marketplace. The panel was part of an AFM Production Conference on Monday, Nov. 7, at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica.

Fairmont Hotel Site of AFM Conference Panels

Moderated by Paul Hertzberg, president and CEO of CineTel Films, the panel included:

  • Jay Cohen, head of packaging and finance, Gersh Agency
  • Gary Randall, co-founder of Boardwalk Entertainment Group
  • Rena Ronson, co-head UTA Independent Film Group
  • Hal Sadoff, head of International and Independent Film, ICM
  • Eric Schotz, president and CEO, LMNO Productions

AFM Agents/Packaging Panel

Cohen kicked things off by explaining that many agents nowadays don't work directly with talent, but are charged with finding financing for projects that will involve clients at their own and other agencies.  Gersh, he said, currently work with several "equity funds" whose managers want to invest in motion pictures.

Sadoff joined in to talk about the realities of today's marketplace regarding big-name talent who sometimes find themselves not even being approached about a project because the budget can't handle their fees.  Many films today, he noted, are being made for around $2 million with no stars attached. 

Ronson said that fees weren't a primary concern for many of the actors and directors she works with because they want a chance to do something of quality that is more challenging than big action-adventure films targeted at a teenage audience.   "Quality" is also the issue, she said, for "high net-worth individuals" who are funding smaller films in their entirety.

Randall noted that his company, Boardwalk Entertainment, is "music centric" and he's able to be creative in bringing music dollars into a film's potential financing package.  For television projects, Schotz looks for showrunners who have a proven track record in producing successful shows because financiers are more likely to write checks with these people attached.

Agents Panel in Fairmont Hotel Ballroom

While none of the panelists were willing to take pitches from attendees, they did offer advice on ways to get a project noticed by financiers.  One is to produce a sizzle reel that captures why the film will resonate
with an audience and deserves to be funded.  The panelists pointed out that with today's technology, anyone can make a five-minute promotional spot for their film.

Attendees at the 2011 AFM Agents Panel

At the end of the agents/packaging session, attendees lined up to ask questions and were able to receive valuable advice from the panelists on their individual projects.  Much of what they heard had a common
theme.  They were told, for example, to always run the numbers and be able to show investors, within a 5% spread, what the movie is likely to generate in terms of profitability.   That means creating a realistic budget,
assessing the movie's market (theatrical release, direct-to-video, video on demand) and what percentage each financing partner is expected to contribute and receive.

Attendees were also cautioned not to contact any of the panelists for help since they were already working on dozens of projects for their own clients.  First-time filmmakers were advised to start small and put together a low-budget film that can then be used as a calling card for meeting with financiers for the next project.

For more information about AFM 2012, go to www.americanfilmmarket.com.

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