Sunday, July 1, 2012

Closing The Gap - Film Financing for Dummies

Even after working on animated films for 25 years I am still shocked at my own ignorance when it comes to the details of film budgets and financing. How do films actually get financed? What kind of investors put money into films and how do film-makers find such investors? Working at big studios like Disney, Warners and DreamWorks, I never had to trouble myself with such things, leaving all that to the "suits" who did the boring numbers stuff. But now, as I plough the furrow of independent feature film making, it seems I have to get my hands dirty with the numbers after all. 

Enter "Closing the Gap" - an annual film finance conference organised by Berlin film consultants Peaceful Fish and funded in part by the European Union MEDIA program. The first part was held this past week in Bari in Puglia, and the second round takes place in Majorca this October. The course seeks to school the ignorant in the basics of film finance. Confused about the difference between a sales agent and a distributor? Need some handy spreadsheets to make your numbers look convincing? Perhaps some advice on Crowd Funding or Gap Finance? This is the place for you. I learned more in 3 days than I have managed to pick up in the last 3 years. 

The only depressing part of the course was the awful realization of how tough it is to make a profit in show business. Even successful movies have trouble recouping their costs, after all the various intermediaries have taken their cut - hence the need for grants, soft money and producer tax credits. Investing in film is risky, and the wise film-maker knows that inventiveness and creativity are required in coming up with a business plan that will make money for the investors.
Santa - please finance my movie for Christmas

But Bari has other pleasures besides spreadsheets and advice on tax rebates. Not just excellent food and wine (as you would expect in Italy) but - and this was a surprise for me - the bones of Father Christmas. Yes, the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari Vecchio (the old city)  houses the remains of the town's very own patron saint, known as Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, or Santa Claus as we say in the US. 
Behind bars - Santa's tomb

On the day I visited, Santa's tomb was well attended by the faithful, who prayed at his altar and posted little supplicatory notes through the decorative screen (for what? Christmas presents?). I thought of scribbling a prayer for Saint Nick to finance my movie, but it seemed a little frivolous, and hopefully I won't need to rely on divine intervention to get My Haunted House on the silver screen.

- Alex