Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #772: Pitfalls of Independence

Yesterday I came across this article about producer Brett Saxon. Before this article Saxon was best known for working in infomercials, books about schmoozing celebrities, and producing the indie poker comedy The Grand, nowadays, his biggest claim to fame is as a target for lawsuits.

He's the target of lawsuits from investors claiming that he's misappropriated about $7.8 million in investment capital, fees, and loans, and an arbitrator has already ordered him to pay back one investor $2.25 million. Saxon's defense is that he's just been unlucky, especially at the box office since his biggest film
The Grand only scored a little less than $115,000 at the box office.

Now I'm not going to pass judgement on whether Brett Saxon is guilty of all the malfeasance that he's being accused of, because it doesn't really matter. Business wise he is screwed six ways from Sunday, and could easily be litigated into the Stone Age.

So why am I talking about this guy?

Because it's a fate shared by too many indie film producers and companies, from the over litigated David Bergstein to the outright criminal shenanigans of the Q Media Assets/Cinamour scandal.

Which is a terrible shame, because right now is the perfect time to get a independent film company off the ground. The major studios continue to shrink their output of theatrical releases, huge gaps are forming in the marketplace, and while the risks are high, the potential for rewards are great. That's why there are film finance funds popping up, new distributors being formed, and even the Megan and David Ellison, the spawn of billionaire Larry Ellison are getting in on the act, working together on the hit western
True Grit.

So how can these new companies avoid trouble, and the billionaire Ellisons avoid ending up millionaires, if they're lucky?

Well, they can start by listening to me, and my smug know-it-all butt-insky advice.

1. INFORMATION IS POWER: This is true, know thy enemy and know thyself as Sun Tzu once said to me at Machiavelli's barbecue. Before you invest a dime you learn everything you must learn three important things:

A) YOURSELF: Look inward, think if you are really ready for the meat grinder of the movie business. Ask yourself: What kind of movies do you want to produce? Are you in it for the money, the love of film, or a combination thereof?

B) THE BUSINESS: Learn everything you can about every facet of the business. Learn how movies are made, released, and marketed. Learn how the game is played, and how you can use those rules for your own benefit.

C) THE PEOPLE: You're going to get involved with a lot of different kinds of people in the movie business. Some are great, some are not. Look into who you're doing business with before you get in bed with them. Find out if they're fit for the red carpet premiere walk, or the perp walk. Do some digging, or better yet, have professionals do the digging for you, if you can afford it. Don't fall for a charming smile and a smooth pitch. Get the facts on your side.

2. SIMPLICITY: This is the best advice whether you're financing your own films, or dealing with investors, and here's why: PROTECTION.

If things are simple you are protected. If you have all the information about your business at your fingertips, and more importantly, understand that information, you can avoid trouble. The complicated bookkeeping games played by the majors only really work if you have a multi-billion dollar multinational conglomerate covering your ass. When you're an independent complications cause trouble. People can manipulate those complications to use against you, either to steal from you, or to show that you're playing crooked games with your books.

You see, indie film is extremely high risk at the best of times. That's why need to be as clean as the driven snow, and be able to show, upon demand, that your financial house doesn't have any dark corners where nasty things can hide. Because if you don't, investors and investigators can see that as a sign of trouble, and it can end in either litigation or prosecution.

You don't want that. You want to make movies in peace. That's the most important part.

1 comment:

  1. Do you still take questions? Because I got some:

    1. Where do you get your info/research? Are you experienced or just have common sense?
    2. Do you think My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic can be the next SpongeBob and make a huge profit off of both kid and adult fans? I'm only asking you this because you posted a brony mashup video.

    Hope I didn't waste your time! ;)