Art and the Art of Raising Money, Part 3: How to Maximize Financial Success When Investing in Film

Julianne DardanesBest Practices, Video

In the previous post, we delved into the checklist that many investors use when deciding whether or not to invest in a given film. The accompanying event footage featured each panelist’s thoughts about the factors that attract them to certain projects.

This third segment hones in on predicting the financial success of a project, which is usually the number one item on the aforementioned checklist. Knowledgeable investors and producers look at more than just the script and talent when determining whether a film will generate high returns. Elaine Wyder-Harshman urged the panelists to explain what other elements they are looking for in their formula for financial success when someone is pitching them a million-dollar project.

Elaine’s question was initially directed at Bobby Schwartz, whose trader background has equipped him with a financially savvy skillset imperative to have on any production team. Although the majority of Bobby’s experience is with higher-budget films, he believes that a background-check of the executive team attached to a project will give him a better idea of their ability to know what the end user wants, as well as the likelihood that they will deliver on it. Bobby believes that lower budget films require investors to realize that they are betting on the team behind a project. He has very little patience for individuals that do not understand the business of filmmaking or do not know when to ask for help.

Because of the collaborative nature of the film industry, Ted Reilly validates Bobby’s views by remaining skeptical of anyone trying to embody the renaissance man. Promising teams demonstrate their capacity to take a project from start to finish, eventually selling the product that they have created. Along with a dream team and a viable plan, Ted anticipates that successful projects will have a way to reach their target audience. He does warn that even the projects that have these three components are still not a guaranteed financial success. Ultimately, the deciding factor will be investors’ intuition after they have evaluated the facts. And, oh yeah, luck plays a big role too.

From a producer’s angle, Angie Gaffney believes that understanding the scope of a budget and being able to explain the basis for certain numbers are crucial when predicting the financial outcome of a film. For smaller budgets, she recommends finding a producer that knows how to make the most of every penny. Angie reiterates that making a movie is not a one-man job, and that leveraging complementary skillsets of the team members will contribute to the overall success of the project.

Since the Chicago film industry is smaller and less developed than powerhouses like L.A. and New York, it has the opportunity to shape and structure itself in a way that will meet a unique niche for distributors. For Ted, this means that Chicagoans in the industry must band together so that distributors label Chicago as a group of specialists instead of individuals with opposing interests. Bobby backs up this approach by agreeing that higher-ups on the coasts would be more interested in a slate of multiple lower-budget movies versus independent one-off ventures.

Exciting things are happening in Chicago that wouldn’t have been possible several years ago, and infrastructure is emerging that is more conducive to meeting the needs of the city’s talent.

The next segment of this series will feature a question from the audience about alternative asset classes that leads into a discussion about the value of creative content.

Part 1 of this series can be found here, and Part 2 here.

Julianne Dardanes

Julianne Dardanes

Julianne Dardanes is a summer intern at Ziliak Law. She is an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English along with a minor in Business. After graduating next spring, Julianne plans to attend law school and eventually become a practicing attorney in the Chicagoland area. Read more
Julianne Dardanes