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Movie Stars Still Matter [But There’s a Catch]

Film finance today is predicated on one of two scenarios:

  • An ultra high net worth individual is willing to take equity risk and finance a film (whether for the love of cinema, the shimmer of a potential Sundance breakout or the fast and loose promises of the producers).
  • A ‘name attachment’ drives international and domestic sale value and allows investors to make a financial decision based on the mitigated risk.

The problem with number one is that there are only so many of such individuals coupled with the fact that filmmaking is not a cheap endeavor (although there are certainly break out hits of recent days that have been made on shoestrings).

The issue with number two? The list of “bankable” such talent is continually shrinking — which is something our team at BondIt Media Capital (a film, TV and media investment fund focused on pre-sales, tax credits, bridge loans, etc) is seeing ever more presently.

Quick, Get Me [Fill in the Blank]!

Over the past five years BondIt has financed upwards of 250 feature film and TV projects ranging from micro-budgets to $30M+ films. The continuing trend is that “bankable talent” is both a shorter list than the year prior and the nuances of attaching such talent are becoming more complex given the booming TV and SVOD (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu) projects taking forefront both for audiences and agencies alike.

Let’s not kid ourselves.

Agencies are interested in making 10 percent of whatever the best / largest / most likely number will materialize for their clients. That’s very different between a Netflix financed TV series and an art house indie duct taped together with numerous financiers.

The entertainment trade publications have been fanning the flames of the “end of the movie star era” for the past few years. It seems not a major blockbuster is released today without at least one major publication placing the blame on the lack of remaining star power of [insert previously world class talent here].

The overall number of ‘pre-sellable talent’ has shrunk in recent years. There are certainly still a remaining number of both creatively interesting, reasonably budgeted (if – and a big if – they respond positively to the material and team involved) and worthwhile names for international pre-sales.

Yes, the heyday of the ’80s Cannes marketplace – whereby suitcases of cash were opened on site to pay for pre-sales (or so I’m told) – are gone. The smart and resourceful producers we know have found ways to continue getting great content made.

Meet the Unlikely Actors Who Make Things Happen

Not a market goes by without a handful of Nicolas Cage, John Travolta or Bruce Willis films popping up. The value of these “bankable stars” may not appear immediately obvious stateside. These name continue to drive significant traffic both at box office and home entertainment viewing alike on a global scale.

Mandy Trailer #1 (2018) | Movieclips Indie

As the Asian, Latin American and European markets continue to rise in overall coverage value these names are becoming even MORE valuable in some instances.

The solution (at least in part) is multi-fold:

  • Consulting with multiple sales agents (defined as a company whose sole focus is the executing of domestic and foreign sales rights on a film – generally done territory by territory at major international markets such as Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, etc) for corroborated feedback on talent value. This is key, as full consensus may not be possible but finding a handful of trusted sales companies who producers respect, operate above board (which is actually harder to find than we’d all like to imagine in this industry) and are willing to provide guidance can make / break cast offers
  • Consulting with multiple operators / producers (defined as producers who have had at least 2-3 successful film projects in a similar budget, genre and vein in the past 2 years) – similar to the above, finding a handful of strong producers who are regularly pitching, packaging and selling content is critical. This will help weed out a lot of the noise from agents and managers trying to endlessly pitch their “valuable” clients.
  • Structuring the remaining finance plan conservatively (“finance plan” is defined as the overall financing DNA of project from the combination of equity, tax credits, pre-sales, etc) – as briefly noted above, content should be produced as tightly as possible to enable the pre-sales value to stretch across as much of the finance plan as absolutely possible

The bottom line here is simple — the glory days of pre-selling an entire budget for a film based on a single cast name (outside of Brad Pitt, etc) is largely a bygone era.

That said – with the rise of digital content platforms producing content (and in turn creating a whole new generation of star power) there will absolutely be a ripple effect of name talent attractive to both audiences and media buyers alike.

Pre-sales and licensing agreements have been a component of independent film finance plans for almost 25 years. Even in the rapidly changing digital age that will continue to be a major component for getting content made.

Matthew Helderman is the founder and CEO of BondIt Media Capital and Buffalo 8. Helderman founded Buffalo 8 in 2010 while an undergraduate student producing his first feature film. Buffalo 8 touted 3 premieres in the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and recently came off the production of the Netflix Original “Rodney King” film directed by Spike Lee.

BondIt’s fully or partially financed film and TV projects include “The Invitation,” “King Cobra” (James Franco and Christian Slater), “Aftermath” (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and the 2018 Academy Award nominated film “Loving Vincent.” Helderman has been a featured speaker at the Cannes Film Festival, London Film Festival, Bahamas Film Festival, Indywood (India) Film Festival and the Chinese US Business Summit.

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