Things agreed upon, things to debate

The experts from the Financing and Management modules that have come to Ronda in the last weeks have coincided in at least 3 basic truths.

INFORMATION IS KEY. You need to know about the market, about your competitors, about social trends. Bernie Stampfer said he spends one hour reading Screen and Variety, everyday. Laurence Clerc started her session with data: do you know how many screens are there in your country? Do you know how many films are released per year? Did you know the average French goes to the cinema 5.5 times per year; British 2.7; Spanish, 1.9; German 1.6? How do you plan getting people to the cinemas to see your film? Documentary producer Christine Camdessus put it this way: Do your research:  it is not infrequent to spend months developing a documentary that has already been made… Gathering information helps you for grab the opportunities of the present and prepare for the future.

PLANING IS KEY. Planning ahead starts the very moment you read a 2-page synopsis: you must have an idea of what the film will be like: its size, its market, its potential revenues, before you fix a price for the script in the development contract. Not doing your maths and offering a fee that is too high can be the first step to bankruptcy, says Laurece Clerc. For Christophe Vidal, planning means anticipating the risks and opportunities, and saving for the future. A practical application: since you don’t know if you’ll make money with the next films, it is vital that you include your overheads in the budgeting of this present project. “Think business, and not only project”, says Bernie Stampfer: unexperienced producers are so eager to get this one film made that they forget that making this film means little if you cannot keep your company running. Mia Bays also insists that it is not a matter of thinking of one movie and then the next one: it is a matter of building long-term relationships.

RALATIONSHIPS ARE KEY. If there’s something that all the experts have insisted on, it is that the film business is about relationships. It is a relationship, a dialogue, with the audience, a dialogue that the Internet and the new technologies make easier than ever, as Robert Pratten says; and a dialogue that should start before the film is released, like Michael Gubbins claimed when talking about preawareness.  It is a personal relationship between a producer and a writer –“Never send a script anonymously, warns Alberto Marini, try to know the people you’re sending it to”-; it is a relationship of trust between you as a producer and your financiers or creative team. Both Christine Camdessus and Laurence Clerc state that trust is your biggest asset: you are selling an idea, a promise, and the people you work with must believe that you’ll deliver a finished film that will be up to the expectations.

The last and most obvious truth of all regarding film business, all experts have agreed, is that film is a very strange business. Because each project is a prototype that won’t be repeated; because huge successes are always unexpected; because, as Michael Gubbins puts it, “wanting to make films shows the triumph of hope over experience”.

That gathering information, planning carefully and building relationships are essential to this very strange audiovisual industry are truths universally accepted by this year’s mega experts.  From there on, however, there is plenty of stuff open for debate. To name just a couple of controversial issues:

A FILM IS WORTH LESS ONCE IT’S PRODUCED. For Christophe Vidal, you generate a dream idea of the film in the minds of people you’re pitching it to; and they might love this dream and pay big sums of money for it as presales. Once it’s made the dream is gone: reality is never like they had imagined, and generally the price goes down. But for Mia Bays, buyers calculate the price of a film by its budget, so you’ll never get good presales for a low budget film. But once it’s made –and with today’s technology you can make a low budget movie look really good- they forget about the budget and only see the result. Her advice is not to sell the rights, if possible, until you’ve made the film, and then show it to buyers in the adequate circumstances: a film is worth more once it’s produced.

PRODUCERS SHOULD EMBRACE TRANSMEDIA, CROSSMEDIA AND MULTIPLATFORMS. For Robert Pratten, when many people talk about the crisis of the industry it is because they were once part of the old system, and it is now gone. But for a creative person, this crisis is a breath of fresh air. For Michael Gubbins, everything that is hype will eventually pass: “Second screen? Research has shown that people who watch more than one screen simultaneously are if fact focusing in none”.