An Evening With Lew Horwitz, Part 3

Continuing the discussion from An Evening With Lew Horwitz, Part 2, let’s talk about sales agents.

Lew advises that you need to get a sales agent.  Don’t sell your film yourself! 

Wait just a minute.  Isn’t that opposite of the advice that Sandra Schulberg gave a couple of months ago in a class that I took?  Yes it is.

I have a rule when it comes to getting advice or learning something new and it’s this:  Get several opinions.  Don’t just accept the opinion of the first person to come along, because, as noted above, even the experts don’t always agree.  This rule applies to more than just the film industry.  It can be applied to just about everything in life.  And when you come across a different opinion, dig deeper, get more information, and then make up your own mind.  You’ll find that you’ll make better and more informed decisions.

So why does Lew think a sales agent is so vital? 

  • According to him, without an agent, nobody will talk to you.  By nobody, I’m assuming he means banks and distributors.
  • A sales agent will give you an estimate of every territory’s value for your film.  That’s important to know because, according to him, you need to keep the budget of your film to the value of the estimates.  Don’t bluff yourself, he warns.  Be realistic with your budget.

As much as Lew recommends that you hire a sales agent, he also warns not to trust them.  “Love them, but don’t trust them,” he says.  So how can you protect yourself from your own sales agent?

  • Don’t let your film get packaged with other films.  You don’t want cross-collateralization because if the other films don’t make any money and your film does, you’ll be sharing your profits with the filmmakers whose films weren’t profitable.  Not a good thing.
  • Give your sales agent some leeway to make deals without having to get your approval every time, but be sure to state in the contract with your agent that they cannot license your film for less than X % of his estimate without your express permission.
  • Make sure you see the quarterly reports.
  • Make sure the bank knows about your deal with your sales agent.  You can do this by sending the bank a letter detailing the agreement conditions and asking them to uphold those conditions.  Your sales agent might not be scared of you, but he/she won’t mess with the bank.
  • Hire the best attorneys.  Make sure they have a lot of experience with independent films.

The jury is still out for me as to whether getting a sales agent is the best route to go.  Lew insists that it is, but, obviously, Sandra Schulberg has been able to sell her films without one.  I’m definitely going to have to look into this further before deciding which route is the best one for me to take.

Coming in part four I’ll talk about what Lew has to say about bonds and banks. 

Fans Campaign for “Jericho” Again

Yesterday as I was glancing at my electronic version of Variety, I came across this clever little ad from the Jericho fans who are trying to save their show.  Boy, does this bring back memories of our own campaign to save The Invisible Man.

Jericho Ad

Besides the ad in the electronic version, the fans also purchased a full-page ad in Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.  They spent over $11,000 on these ads.  What makes this a bit sad is that this is the second time that Jericho fans are fighting to save their show.  Their first campaign involved sending over 40,000 pounds of peanuts to CBS.  To their credit, CBS listened and brought back the show.  In an open letter to the fans, CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler wrote: 

“You got our attention; your emails and collective voice have been heard,” Tassler wrote, and seven episodes have been ordered for midseason 2007-08. “In success, there is the potential for more. But, for there to be more `Jericho,’ we will need more viewers.”  Fans must do their part to rally interest while the network does its job, she said.

This is the point where most fan campaigns tend to falter.  The fans are tired from campaigning and overjoyed that they got their show back, but they fail to realize that now the real work has to begin.  Nina was right.  (And this applies to any in-danger show, not just Jericho.)  In order for the show to survive, it needs more viewers.  The fans have to aggressively market the show…and this is much, much harder.  While before they were targeting only a few specific entertainment executives, suddenly their target becomes much wider and, thus, much more of a challenge.  Fans have to start thinking like marketers and publicists.

I remember in the days of our own campaign when Farscape was first cancelled.  We had gone to their bboards months before their show was cancelled and had warned them that what happened to I-Man could very well happen to them.  We didn’t do it to be malicious, not at all, but to make them aware that they should start working to get their show’s ratings up.  Boy, let me tell you, if you ever want to get a bunch of fans angry at you, go to their bboards and tell them their show might be cancelled.  Yeah, that works real well.  As you can imagine, nobody listened to us.  Farscape was the number one show on Sci Fi at the time and they didn’t think it would happen to them.  But, hey, I-Man was the number two show on the same network and the only TV show that was growing in syndication at the time it was cancelled.  So cancellation can happen even to a show that appears to be in a good position. 

I’m not telling this story to put down Farscape fans…no, just the opposite.  When their show was cancelled we had Farscape fans coming to us asking for our advice.  What did we tell them?  To go market the show.  And market they did.  They put on one of the most aggressive and sophisticated fan campaigns I have ever seen.  Because of their efforts they were able to get a mini-series and now they have a webisode series too.  My hat off to them.

So what’s the point that I’m trying to make here?  Well, if you’re the type of fan that loves a show enough that you would spend your resources campaigning for it if it were cancelled, then, my advice is to promote and market it before it gets cancelled.  It’s much easier to support your favorite show now while it’s still on the air than to wait until it gets cancelled.

Now, if you’re one of the fortunate few who has had your favorite show cancelled but brought back due to your campaign efforts, then be prepared to work even harder.  As I mentioned above, your target has now become even wider and that’s going to make your mission considerably more challenging.  You need to get more eyeballs and you need to get those ratings up. 

If the ratings don’t go up, then you’re going to find yourself in the difficult position that the Jericho fans currently find themselves in…campaigning to network executives yet again to try to save their show.

I wish the Jericho fans all the best with their efforts.  I like Jericho.  I think it’s a smart, well-written show with an interesting premise and I would like to see it continue.  As someone who has “been there and done that” with regard to fan campaigns, I can totally sympathize with their plight and efforts.  But as someone who is making the journey from fan to entertainment professional, I won’t be joining their campaign.  I love quality entertainment and I think my efforts to bring quality entertainment to audiences are better served from within the industry…starting with our own I-Man cast, of course.

But if you love Jericho and the spirit moves you to want to help out their campaign, by all means go over to and give them a hand.  I’m sure they will appreciate it. 

Paul Ben-Victor News

Paul in Tank ShirtIf you were looking forward to the premiere of Paul Ben-Victor’s new series In Plain Sight tomorrow night, well, you’re going to have to wait a little longer.  The premiere date has been pushed back to Sunday, June 1, 2008, at 10:00 p.m./9:00 p.m. Central on USA.

Paul plays the role of Stan McQueen in this series.  You can read about his character on his character profile page.  Personally, I found Paul’s bio page to be a much more interesting read…lot’s of great info and tidbits.

In mentioning Paul’s past achievements, USA mentions Invisible Man.  But what I didn’t know about was the award Paul received for his role of Bobby Hobbes in the series.  When did that happen?  Am I the only one who didn’t know about this? 

Here’s what USA has to say about it:

Ben-Victor also starred as Special Agent Bobby Hobbes in the international hit series “The Invisible Man,” a role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Audience Award for Sci Fi.

Wow, learn something new every day.  We fans all know how incredibly talented Paul is and it’s wonderful to see that his talent has been acknowledged!  Here’s some more news about Paul:

  • “Ben-Victor will soon be seen in the hit comedy Everybody Hates Chris as crazy Coach Thurman in an eight-episode arc.” 
  • Paul will appear in the upcoming film “Anytown, a gripping drama from writer/director Dave Rodriguez.”
  • Paul’s production company, American Independent Pictures, will produce its first feature film, Should’ve Been Romeo.  He co-wrote and will star in the film along with Natasha Henstridge and Michael Rapaport.

California Independent Film Festival

This weekend I went to my first film festival.  The California Independent Film Festival is a small festival held in nearby Livermore, and this year was its tenth year running.  Time didn’t allow me to see everything, so I only attended a few events.

The first event I went to was a seminar on Saturday on Directing, Producing and Distributing Indie Films.  It was only 45 minutes long.  What could they possibly share in only 45 minutes that I didn’t already know?  The answer was…nothing.  I’ve heard it all before.  They mostly talked about distribution of indies.  Nothing much about directing or producing.  There simply wasn’t any time.  The prevailing attitude that shorts are nothing more than a calling card was expressed and so I shared a story that I know of a short that actually did make money.  I’ll have to blog about it sometime.  It’s a great example of out-of-the-box thinking.

The next seminar immediately followed and it was on Indie Music for Television and Film.  Okay, I actually learned a few things at this seminar.  Most notably, I learned about the importance and role of a music supervisor in a film.  Besides finding the music for a film, a big and very important part of a music supervisor’s job is to get clearance on music rights.  Without the proper clearance, lots of legal problems can crop up and that can cause all kinds of headaches that could have been avoided simply by doing due diligence. 

One of the panelists was a music supervisor with a long list of TV and film credits.  He has the kind of experience I would be looking for to build a strong team for my film, so after the seminar I talked to him and got his contact info.

I got an invitation to the filmmakers party that night, but the darn thing didn’t start till 10:00 p.m.  I’m an early riser and I need my sleep, so I passed on the party.

The next morning I was back at the theater to watch the Tri-Valley Shorts Showcase…a slate of nine short films from filmmakers here in the Valley.  The reason I wanted to see this series was because I knew a couple of the filmmakers whose shorts were being featured.  One of them was John Meredith.  You long-time readers may remember that I blogged about his On The Lot entry last year.  Well, John has come a long ways.  This was the first time he got one of his shorts on the big screen and his filmmaking skills keep getting better with each film.

Overall, this was a nice introduction to film festivals.  One of these days I really need to attend one of the big ones like Sundance, Toronto, or Cannes.  Oooh, visiting France sounds like fun. 

An Evening With Lew Horwitz, Part 2

Okay, picking up from last Saturday’s post, An Evening With Lew Horwitz, Part 1, let’s continue the discussion about financing films using debt financing.

Lew had an interesting comment about banks:  They don’t care if your film makes money.  That struck me as a rather odd statement, but it makes sense when you think about it.  Banks just care about getting their loan paid back with interest.  And getting their money back really has nothing to do with whether you make money or not on your film.  What they require is a guarantee that they will get their money back and that guarantee is in the form of collateral.  No, they don’t want your house or car.  Collateral in the film world is distribution contracts, also known as presales.  The term presale is a bit misleading because Lew emphasized that you must never, ever sell your film to a distributor.  You always want to retain ownership of your film in order to keep the profits.  Instead, you’ll want to license your film to distributors for a specified period.

The world is divided up into many territories, a domestic territory and many foreign ones.  Preselling your film to as many of these distributors as possible can give you the collateral you need to get a bank loan.  These distributors promise you a minimum guaranteed amount in the distribution contract and it is against those amounts that you can take out a loan with a bank. 

Before 1995, it used to be that presales could cover the entire cost of a film.  Not anymore.  After getting burned a few times, distributors became more cautious.  Now, you can expect, on average, around 30% to 40% of your film’s financing to come from presales…sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. 

If you approach distributors after your film is finished, instead of before, you can usually negotiate a better deal.  But that means that you’ll need to get your funding from other sources and, if you’re like most, you’re cobbling together the financing for your film wherever you can get it. 

You really should try to get a U.S. theatrical release because it will help with getting foreign sales.  Also (and I’m going to interject something here that I learned from a Dov S-S Simens’ class I took a couple of years back), if you want to license your film to HBO, Showtime, and other pay cable networks, you need to get it out in theaters, even if it is only a limited release, because, according to Dov, the pay cable networks only air films that have had a theatrical release.  That said, Lew did mention that straight-to-video films can do very well.

Well, that’s all for tonight.  Part three of this series deals with getting a sales agent.  

An Evening With Lew Horwitz, Part 1

Lew Horwitz has been described as one of the true greats in independent film financing.  He has over 35 years of experience in the entertainment financing business and has funded hundreds of films during that time, including the very successful My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  So when I found out that IIFF was sponsoring a film financing workshop featuring Mr. Horwitz as the speaker, I knew I had to attend.

Wednesday night’s workshop was located at the Academy of Art University’s auditorium on New Montgomery street in San Francisco.  It’s not the usual location where IIFF workshops and meetings are held, so I made sure to leave early so that I would have plenty of time to find parking, which can often be a challenge in the City.  Fortunately, I got there in plenty of time and was able to chat with other attendees while we were waiting.  I, also, caught a glimpse of actress Diane Baker, who attended the workshop, and is currently a Co-Director at the University. 

Lew was very charming and entertaining.  Occasionally, he would take a break from speaking and entertain us with magic tricks, which were a lot of fun to watch.  He’s quite good. 

Some of the material he covered I already knew, some of it clarified things for me, and some of it was new.  Starting with the basics, there are three ways to finance a film:

  1. Studios
  2. Investors
  3. Borrowed Money

Studio financing is great if you can get it, and that’s the trick…if you can get it.  It’s rare for independent films to get studio financing, which is why independents usually fund their film by means of borrowed money (debt financing) and/or investors (equity financing).  This is a good time to define what debt and equity financing is for those of you who may be unfamiliar with those terms.

  • Debt financing is money that is borrowed from a bank and must be repaid with interest.  One of the advantages to debt financing is that the lender does not gain ownership interest in the film.  Once the debt is paid, your obligations to the bank are over and all profits from your film are yours to keep. 
  • Equity financing is money received from investors in exchange for interest in the film.  The advantages to this type of financing is that you don’t go into debt to obtain funds and the risks are distributed among the investors.  A disadvantage is that you don’t keep all of your film’s profit.  

Most films are financed using a combination of debt and equity financing.  That’s putting it very simply.  It actually gets far more complicated as you will see later on.  I already had an idea how complicated financing can get and I find the whole process very fascinating.  During the break, however, I overheard conversations from some in the audience who were hearing the information for the first time.  They were freaking out a bit when they found out what was involved to get their film funded.

Lew taught us about funding our films using the third option:  borrowed money (debt financing).  I’m going to stop here for the evening and pick it up again in part two.  There’s a lot of information to cover and I think it would be better to split it up into several posts.

“Sexy Laundry” Extended Again

Sexy Laundry, the play starring Paul Ben-Victor and Frances Fisher, extends its highly successful run yet again.  The play now runs through April 26, 2008 at The Hayworth Theater in Los Angeles.  Shows run from Thursday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and some of the shows are completely sold out.  To buy tickets visit Brown Paper Tickets.

The critics continue to give the show rave reviews:

“Fisher and Ben-Victor are masterful in their roles, they have us in stitches one minute and teary eyed the next. Blumsack’s dynamic direction allows the characters to live and breathe.” 
-LA Weekly

“Played for all it’s worth.” 
-LA Times

“Captivating”….. Likened to an intertwining of Martha and George (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?”) “Intuitive staging by Gary Blumsack” 

“The cast is superb.” 
-City Beat

“Hilarious…. Moving…. Fisher and Ben-Victor make a dream team” 
-LA Scene

Here’s a little video I found giving us a glimpse of Paul in action.