Our speaker last week was independent film producer Anthony Bregman.
He drew a distinction between independent films and studio films. For example, “Avatar”, a studio film, cost $300 million to make and made $3 bn. in box office sales worldwide – a factor of 10 times. By comparison, the independent film “Our Idiot Brother”, which he produced, cost $5mn.to make and notched up $25 million in box office sales – a factor of 5 times.
Anthony told us that he received hundreds of proposals, ideas, scripts and movie shorts and he discarded virtually all of them. To determine if an idea had the potential to be a successful movie, Anthony focused on what it was about a movie that had appeal. For example, “The Wedding Day” that he produced in 1993 was about a gay Chinese man who decided to go through with a fake marriage. His parents came from Taiwan and, much to his consternation, turned it into a lavish affair. Complications and misunderstandings led on from there. The film cost $750,000 to make, won the Berlin Film Festival prize and made $32 million in sales around the world. But what group made up its largest audience? Not the Chinese community, not the gay community, not those concerned with immigration issues – the largest audience was made up of seniors – and the central theme was: how to please one’s parents.
Another movie he cited was “Money Ball” the main idea of which, he said, was not about baseball or statistics or money in sport but second chances. So, the first step in movie making was to try to identify and develop an idea that generated an emotional response in the audience.
The second phase was packaging. This involved developing the script, finding a director and famous name actors, all with a view to finding someone to put up the money. And this led to the third phase: financing.
For a studio movie this was relatively easy. For example, with Avatar, 20th Century Fox teamed up with director James Cameron to produce a mega movie that made history and broke records. But Anthony warned that only 4% of films that reach the financing stage actually got made. This could lead to another situation known as a “turnaround” when money had been spent but either the studio or the director decided not to go ahead. An example was “Slumlord Millionaire” that was made by Paramount for $5 million. Warner Brothers wanted to release it as a DVD but the Director said No. The movie’s producer then went to Fox Searchlight who repaid the $5 million and the movie went on to make $250 mn. in the US and $400 million worldwide. “Forest Gump” was another turnaround.
The independent film producer’s main job was to raise finance and this he did from a number of sources including incentives from States where the movie was made, such as Louisiana, distributors, international sales agents, banks and, if there was still a gap, from equity investors.
In Q and A we learned that theatrical release was typically not profitable and the DVD market had declined. Video on Demand was now the growing outlet of choice.
Comparing today’s movie market with the 20’s and 30’s, Anthony said that after the war, 45 million Americans could go weekly to the movies whereas today the number was 2 million. In the old days, the business was star driven – Clark Gable or Charlie Chaplin could pack in the crowds.
What were the demographics of movie going? Surprisingly, the most profitable sector was kids. The movie “Transformers”, about robots fighting, he described as awful – but the kids enjoyed it. Horror movies were, surprisingly, very popular with young girls who would go with their friends and boy friends. On the other hand, the movie “Money ball” was most popular with audiences over 50 years of age.
Why was VOD or video not available all the time? Because Netflix, for example got the streaming right for 3 months after which Liberty Media might get it. Did he think that, down the road, big movies would still be made? Yes – the large screen and great sound would always appeal for certain movies. Finally, a Y’s Man told how in 1974 he invested a small amount in a movie limited partnership that apparently made $10 million but he barely got his money back. Where did it all go? Anthony described the many mouths that had to be fed when it came to distributing the proceeds of a movie, successful or otherwise.
Anthony’s presentation was refreshingly enthusiastic and animated. Thank you to Woody and Paul for lining him up for us.