Who pays the piper?

Making movies and TV shows costs money. We all know that. So where does the 'wannabe' producer go to find funding? Mark Hill of The Rights Lawyers takes a look at this ever important aspect of the production process.

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By  Mark Hill Published  September 11, 2006

I|~||~||~|So, you still want to make a movie? Or that new TV show? Ok, so how do you go about paying for it? I have many times quoted perhaps the best known creator of independent movies we have in this era, Quentin Tarantino, who once said: "Independent filmmakers don't make money. They'll spend all the money they have to make the movie. Money they don't have, their parents' money. Steal money, go into debt for the rest of their lives. The movie can be as good as it's gonna be or as bad as it's gonna be, but it is theirs." But if maybe that's not the way you want to go, what are the options? We haven't had many movies shot locally in the UAE though we have had Dubai, a movie "loosely" based on the Filipino experience in Dubai, an Arabic language reworking of The Count of Monte Cristo, Media Group's Tarab Fashion (featured in last month's Digital Studio) and the as yet unreleased Chamale, a locally produced English language feature for example. All of these were privately funded as far as I am aware from either local funds or funds from India. So the concept of raising money for movies in this part of the Middle East is still a very new phenomenon. TV is perhaps slightly better but even then anybody who has spent any time attempting to sell TV show formats to broadcasters in the region knows how rare it is to get a local commission and how important sponsorship is in the whole TV production process. So what are the options? ||**||II|~||~||~|1. Find an investor. This is certainly a possibility in this part of the world. There is certainly enough potential to find independent film funding here and TV and film are becoming sexy areas for potential investors to consider. Perhaps the problem though is that making quality TV productions and any kind of filmmaking is still pretty much a new thing and so is a bit of an unknown quantity. Local investors therefore have little understanding of where revenues are likely to come from in a movie context (and the same often goes for TV) and obviously there are certain difficulties within the Middle East market relating to the recoupment of productions costs through "usual" distribution and ancillary exploitation routes (see Ziad Batel's comments in the recent Digital Studio piece on Tarab Fashion. 2. At the very least, a clear idea of concept and who the participants are is crucial. I've talked before about making sure that everyone knows who the stakeholders are and what they are to bring to the party and also what they expect to get out of the production. It is equally vital to have any investment arrangement very clearly drawn. Yep, that's right, I mean in a contract! 3. Film funds. This is something relatively new in the region although we have seen several of them recently, mostly from Germany as it happens (film funds make sense there for certain tax and corporate law reasons). These arrangements need very careful consideration, whether you are fund owner or prospective investor. And this isn't always the case in my experience. I advised on one very recently which was a film fund from Germany arranging for a local company to "sell" the project to prospective investors in the local market. The problem was that when I tried to get an explanation of how the fund operates from the local company that was selling it, they said "we don't know, you better talk to Germany". Not ideal! ||**||III|~||~||~|4. Banks. Well, I'm maybe being harsh here, but good luck! No, actually I'm probably not being harsh! In the current market, banks are simply too risk averse and definitely film financing is not an area that is understood in the local banking sector. 5. Government funding. There is still talk of a government backed film fund and/or film commission and at some point we will have a clearer view of exactly what is proposed and who is driving it. As far as I can see though, this is still pretty much up in the air. As I have mentioned before, this is still a watch this space area. Of more immediate interest is the continuing and potentially very important role that can be played for the funding of clever or innovative new initiatives from entrepreneurial Emarati nationals. That is the role that is being played now by the Mohammed Bin Rashed Establishment for Young Business Leaders. We have been involved in one high profile production recently which has been funded and heavily supported by SME and hopefully this will not be the last time we will see government backing of this nature. 6. Sponsorship and product/location placement. These are topics that are well known from the world of TV production within the region. Unlike TV production in other parts of the world where commissioning, TV advertising and ancillary revenues are of greater importance, TV production here is still heavily dominated by sponsorship funding. There is also an increasing use of product placement (the concept of a particular company paying to have its brands shown on screen). To give an example, keep an eye out for what watch James Bond will be wearing in the new movie and what car he will be driving. This is even starting to appear in an on-line context, computer games and the like. As you are playing the latest version of Grand Theft Auto, as you walk through the interactive world, you will see virtual billboards and product placement even there within the virtual world. 7. There is also the issue of location placement, which is perhaps an interesting one in light of ongoing leisure and real estate development opportunities in the Gulf and the Middle East generally. So for example, the real estate companies are becoming increasingly interested in what may be possible in terms of showcasing their properties on screen whether that be on TV, the big screen or in the interactive environment. And remember that with technology what it is today, why should a little thing such as not actually having built the building in question slow you down? With 3D rendering capability, after paying an appropriate fee, there is no reason why your upcoming new property should not be beautifully showcased as a high visibility location for you on screen. 8. These kind of techniques have been heavily used elsewhere in the world and, particularly in the TV context, are becoming more common within this region. They have not yet translated particularly to the world of film but there is no reason as to why they should not and, in fact, we are currently acting on one local film project and one animation project where location placement fees are quite an important aspect of the independent producers' post production budget requirements. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of how to find funding for movies or TV productions. For example we have not even touched on the issue of how to exploit ancillary markets (foreign distribution, DVD and CD sales, etc.). However it at least hopefully will give you a few ideas about some of the ways in which it is possible to raise money in this part of the world. More information on the rights lawyers is available on the website: www.therightslawyers.com ||**||

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