Tuesday, January 02, 2007


I was over at Could You Describe The Ruckus? (thanks for the visit!) and read Patrick's post about bad movies, Da Worst. It got me thinking about what a cynical world international film finance is. When I was working as an executive and producer, one of my main functions, the bane of my existence really, was searching for financiers for the projects that I was putting together. The majority of my projects were set-up at major studios, but I had a number of films that were passion projects. To get these done I met with some of the shadiest motherfuckers on planet Earth. And I do mean to use the profanity here. I'm talking about the kind of folks (100% men, may be coincidental, probably not) who not only hang out with porn stars, but actually charter jets to fly them in for "parties" with backers.

For these guys, film finance is an entre to that crazy thing called the VIP-list. Their "slate" is more like an internet money scam. Some of them (who shall remain unnamed on this blog but if you click here you'll get an eyeful) pull together films as fast as possible, dumping money into anything with a recognizable name. The money to be made is pretty staggering since many of the financiers take credits and then collect fees from a few places along the feeding trough. They get a producing fee, "hard" costs (their overhead expenses for things with receipts like desks, phone calls and travel) and "soft" costs (anything else you can amortize like depreciable assets, loan interests and consultants' fees). Oh, yeah, and then there's backend.

If you have a passion project with some sort of marketable element (like Ed Norton's new movie The Painted Veil), financiers like this can be a great way to get a movie made (I'm sure Ed's financiers were not shady, I'm just using his film as an example).

Or, if you just happen to be the man standing next to the man, standing next to the man (h/t to the late comedian Robin Harris) you might get a movie made for the hell of it. These are the crappy movies that show up on late-night cable, or only get released for half a day, then are sent off to parts foreign to die a crapulent death. These films were made for dumping.

If anybody has a fairy-tale story of financing-come-true please share. Make it a happy new year here in Diva-land -- everybody's dreams can come true! I have a friend who found that proverbial group of dentists from the Mid-West to invest in his film, which he then spent three years schlepping around from distributor to distributor until he recouped all the cash. The dentists loved it, they impressed their friends with their stories about Hollywood, took their wives out to a premiere and had a movie poster with their names on it next to a recognizable face. Win-win. One guy had even invested as a gift to his wife for her birthday! I love that guy. God bless him and his Sugar Daddy soul.


jimhenshaw said...

God, I wish I could tell you a happy ending story. I'm up to my eyes with forensic accounting reports that suggest some of the legit players are no better than their VIP Lounge counterparts. One of them crunched the numbers and discovered the studio would have actually earned more money if they hadn't been working so hard to hide the profits. What a world!

The Film Diva said...

Jim, thanks for stopping by, I dig your blog. I wish I could be as coherent and entertaining as you, and as prolific. I hope you're enjoying the blogging.

You know I hear these stories about the machinations folks go through to "hide" money on a movie, and, honestly, isn't it always just easier to spend that energy making a good movie that will actually make some money?

A friend of mine just told me a story about this guy he knows who got his first Hollywood Shuffle on a film, and I actually laughed out loud. Talk about schadenfreude! I was like "He popped his cherry!" cuz your nobody in this town until you've been screwed over, right? Geesh, I need to get my head examined... oops, already did that. :-)

jimhenshaw said...

Thanks, Diva. I like what you're doing too.

I spent most of today with a bunch of 75 year old wrestlers, getting background on a film I'm trying to launch. Their stories of crooked promoters and ring charlatans aren't much different from what we encounter. our world is not as unique as we want to believe.

I think the simplicity of just doing a good movie and making some money isn't enough for the financiers you describe; they need more, danger, a revelation of their shortcomings or some other form of titillation to make it worth their while.

I had one guy who delivered his promised investment but spent every day of the process promising it would arrive "Tomorrow", "In an hour" "In 20 minutes". I knew he was making it up. I'm certain he did too, but for him it was the added pressure or pain that he needed to get off.

Alan Smithee said...

Film financing is an art form. I mean, nobody would invest money to deliberately make a bad film, right? You gotta be just a little bit lucky...

I bet the financers of that piece of crap (taking in a whopping record $34 in theaters in 2006) known as Zyzzyx (with the fantastic Tom Sizemore starring) didn't say, "Hey, let's invest a couple of million in this piece of crap."

Filmmaking is a giant crapshoot, that's what makes it so much fun.

jimhenshaw said...

$34!!! The report I read at CHUD said it only made $30! These guys! Somebody's always playing with the numbers, even if it only gets them another four bucks!

The Film Diva said...

LOL. Gotta show the legit investors you're trying, right?

Movies have always been the investment of choice for folks looking to "wash" money, and for people who need to burn off excess cash (i.e. non-traditional financiers who make a lot of money in their primary field and want to "hide" some of that profit). That's one of the reasons I'm so split about this indie financing trend -- it's great for folks who don't want to work inside the "system," but there are also no safeties in that world.

The unions came up for a reason, too bad they're busy chasing residuals and ancillary markets and haven't gotten wise to the new shuffle -- indie financiers who make downstream distribution deals with studios. That's the new wild wild West.