GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – THE CURIOUS CASE OF FALLING STARS

Over the past few years, there’s been a seismic shift in Hollywood; a shift so great and unforeseen that the rules of engagement regarding attaching major actors are nearly obsolete. The good news is that the playing field has been leveled again, and independent filmmakers with financed projects will get the attention of almost anyone they want. The bad news, however, is that actors and their representatives are not conceding the immense power they held a few years ago, so they insist on playing the game under the old rules. The result is a state of confusion that hinders everyone, because the rules of engagement are no longer clearly defined.

Thus, in an effort to shed light onto how to navigate through this ever-changing mess, here are a few factors to consider.

Understand The Current Financial Climate
Agents and managers may not give you a price when you inquire about their client, unless that client‘s fee is public knowledge or the client has a predetermined price.

For example, last week a producing partner of mine inquired about an en vogue “A list” actor who has been in at least two box office smash hits in recent years. The actor’s representation got back to us within 24 hours and said his client “only looks at fully financed films that have at least $5 million dollars set aside in an escrow account for the actor.”

Two things surprised me about that response:

1) “A list” actors will field indie offers these days.

2) Everyone really must be hurting to call indie producers back in 24 hours. Under normal circumstances, the Hollywood-to-indie response time is 24 days to eternity, not 24 hours.

Technically speaking, agents and managers are required to inform their client(s) when an offer for their services has been made.  However, they are not required to endorse the offer. The difference with these days is that fewer films are being made for less money, but the actors’ expenses are not being scaled down (i.e. those $20 million homes and $600,000 Rolls-Royce’s still have the same monthly payment they did a few years ago). The result is that actors have to work, and if they don’t, then their agents and managers don’t work either. Thus, having an agent or manager telling you their client “only looks at fully financed films that have at least $5 million dollars set aside in an escrow account for the actor,” isn’t a blow-off, it’s an invitation and should be treated as such. Just get your money in place and go back to them with a real offer.

Research The Numbers Before You Make An Offer
An actor’s asking price is like buying a new car. Certain models can be discounted while other models demand their list price. The key, however, to getting the best deal is to know what others are paying for the same car. The same goes for actors.

The first thing you can do is research how much the actor’s last five films made at the box office. If they bombed, or were otherwise insignificant, you may have case to offer less money. Secondly, you should do your research on how much money the actors made for their last five films. Try the Internet, or entertainment-based magazines like Entertainment Weekly, People, US, etc. as a starting place to find those numbers. Once you compile and cross-reference the numbers, you’ll get an idea about how demanding the actor will be.

For example, if the actor’s last five films have earned him or her $13 million, $11 million, $9 million, $5 million and $4 million, the most recent number, $4 million, is what you negotiate down from. If the actor’s last five films paid them $3 million, $2.5 million, $3 million, $4 million, and then $11 million for their most recent quote, then $11 million is the number to negotiate from. Remember, Hollywood is very much a “what have you done for me lately” world, and so your negotiation should start from the most recent number.

Side Note: Like I’ve mentioned in previous articles, when I say “actor” I mean both men and women. My wife is a doctor, and nobody calls her a “doctress,” so I believe female actors deserve the same respect as their male counterparts.

Keep An Eye On Salary Trends In Professional Sports
As a lifelong sports fan who has season tickets to the Lakers and hits the Super Bowl annually for my birthday, I’ve always been well aware that all professional sports are as much of a part of the world of entertainment as films and television projects are. While this may seem like an awkward statement to some, both industries are vying for the same entertainment dollar. Thus, where consumers choose to spend their money, directly determines the salaries in both industries.

As you may be aware, the National Football League just ended a four-month work stoppage that resulted in the players agreeing to make less money (a lot less) over the next ten years. In fact, even sports agents got squeezed on the deal, by having their 3% fee reduced to 2% of a player’s contract.

The National Basketball Association, on the other hand, is currently in a work stoppage that will most likely cancel a large chunk, or all, of the upcoming 2011-2012 season.  Thus, several players are combating the situation by agreeing to play in Europe or China for greatly reduced salaries.

The end result in both sports leagues directly mirrors what is happening in the film industry: The “players” are making less money because the consumers are spending less to see them.

Notable Actors Are Not Slam Dunks Any Longer
Let’s be honest, in the current financial climate, few actors fall into the “notable” category, since their name alone can no longer get a project immediately green lighted. Outside of Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, or Angelina Jolie playing a gun-toting, ass-kicking character on a rampage of explosions and stunts, there aren’t many actor slam-dunks out there. Even in the case of Johnny and Angelina, take them out of their proven genre, and their value drops too.

Film Packages Have Lost Their Strength
Since we live in a time when even triple A-list stars don’t shine bright enough to get their films made by attaching their name, the value of indie feature film packages with A minus, B plus and B actors are suffering mightily. In fact, these days, getting an indie film package to fall in your lap is like getting a shiny new VCR for Christmas. It might be shiny and it may look new, but it’s a VCR, so it’s worth less than the holiday wrapping paper it was hidden in. Thus, it’s not just about the names you have attached anymore. It’s about the names, how much you had to pay to get them, and how well you utilized them in a genre they have a proven track record in. Only then will indie film packages be valuable to distributors and buyers in today’s market.

Okay everyone, that’s what I’ve got for you today. I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday!




Posted on August 9, 2011 in Features, Going Bionic by
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