by Randy Fox
Film-Com, Nashville’s annual film financing and distribution marketing expo, connects filmmakers and their projects to domestic and foreign distribution companies, as well as a variety of financing sources. Although it includes seminars and panels of “how to” information for filmmakers working on their first projects, script writers, musicians and more, its bigger focus is to provide solid and substantial connections between filmmakers who are already working on marketable properties, and industry executives and companies that are looking for projects to finance or distribute. To that end, Film-Com attracts industry executives from The Weinstein Company, Lionsgate, Fox Television, CBS, DreamWorks Animation, SyFy Network, Valhalla Television the Nashville TV series and many other media entities.
Film-Com's New Project Expo is underway until 4 p.m. today at LP Field, open to the city's film and TV community. In the midst of preparations for the event, Film-Com chairman and general manager Andy van Roon shared thoughts below via email about the state of the local film and TV industry and Film-Com's role within it. See the Film-Com site for a full schedule of remaining events.
How does Film-Com fit into the local film & video production industry?
Well, the misty ancient days of Film-Com spring from the last century, during the music video boom of the late '80s and early '90s, which developed substantial layers of creative and business infrastructure on top of the pre-existing production entities who had been building the environment for years and in some cases decades. Not all, but much of the work revolved around producing short-form product owned by other entities. In the mid-'90s there was a significant market plateau, then a cut-back, regarding the number and budget of music videos being ordered, yet we still had this prodigious creative and production community built up. So, to quote P.D. Ouspensky, that necessitated thinking in other categories.
This began a long process, now about 15 years old, of developing strategies as a community from student to professional levels to create long-form works including feature, television and documentary projects, except these would be works that we would own and potentially see revenues from after distribution to domestic and foreign markets, rather than strictly doing bread and butter products for hire. Nothing wrong with bread and butter, but for those interested in independence as a film and television entity and overall industry, owning and distributing one's own content is the path.
The concept for doing our own film market was initiated back in 1996 and 1997. It had a different name then — AMIFILM — as in American International Film Market. But as a community context, we were not ready. The overall trajectory specific to Film-Com has involved professional symposia on financing and distribution, developing greater acumen regarding feature film business plans, television packages, the grant process for documentaries, continuous dissemination of all such information via our FilmNashville website and weekly news bulletins, all leading up to the launching of Film-Com a few years ago.
Film-Com is a film and television business market powered by the pro bono energies of a large and accumulating team of professionals in the film, television and related music industries. They are working to build bridges between creators of new content and executives, financiers, domestic and foreign distribution companies, as well as potential co-production partners, for the purposes of packaging and launching projects owned by those creators.
While Film-Com was initially launched by FilmNashville, our film and television trade organization, Film-Com Week now involves partners and advisors across the state of Tennessee and based in other parts of the country, including Los Angeles, NYC, Florida and the Pacific Northwest, as well as collaborations in various forms related to the medium for events such as Score-Com for film and television composers with the Nashville Composers Association, Script-Com for screenwriters with the Tennessee Screenwriting Association, the Faith in Film Conference at the Frist Center for Visual Arts, and the Songs for Film and Television Happy Hour at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Film-Com is not a festival or cultural event for the general consumer public. It is strictly a business market for those who are involved in or wish to be involved in the motion picture and television business, and is designed to provide all pragmatic means necessary to help originators of feature, television or documentary concepts convert their creative concepts to operational business models.
The optimum way to build pragmatic bridges for anyone of any locality, whether Tennessee or Timbuktu, is to build an international business market that can serve the interests of both creators of original content and business executives from anywhere who are looking for new content. Nobody writes checks on the spot, because that's not how film finance works. A single film can have financing structure that includes some cash investment, some sales to a handful of foreign territories that can be used toward production capitalization, a significant number of pre-sales to other foreign territories whereby those agreements serve as instruments of collateral to secure lender financing, service equity, product integration, and deferred fee arrangements. Film-Com creates a context specifically designed to bring those various elements together.
Additionally, regardless of the execs that happen to come in on any given year, Film-Com has been accumulating a substantial d-base of connectivity to all the industry execs and companies who have previously attended. These include entities such as the Weinstein Company, Lionsgate, Fox Television, CBS, DreamWorks Animation, SyFy Network, Nu Image / Millennium, A&E, Valhalla, William Morris Endeavor, Star Partners, Strategic Film Partners, East-West Bank, Exclusive Media Group, River Road Entertainment, and numerous others who can each provide direct resources or contacts to their own network of resources.
So the net result of participants in Film-Com, whether from Nashville, Tennessee, or elsewhere, is the development of relationships with entities that can facilitate the completion of production and with subsequent domestic and foreign licensing of the finished works with the goal of returning revenues to the creators and their funding sources, hopefully to self-capitalize yet more projects. And the net result of capitalizing more projects is that more opportunities are created for film and television production personnel, writers, directors, actors, composers, producers, equipment rental houses, post-production facilities, sound stages, and all related infrastructure in-between. Nothing happens overnight. But we are building the mechanisms for increased productivity.
What changes have you seen in the past year? Especially in light of the money and attention that the production of the Nashville TV show has brought to the local industry, and what special challenges to film and video production still need to be addressed in Tennessee or the Nashville area?
As indicated previously, the development of our local film industry is really measured more over the course of decades, rather than a single year. The Nashville series is really the result of a parallel track at the state level, initiated several years ago by then Tennessee Film Commissioner David Bennett, working with Deputy Director Jan Austin, who had the foresight to understand the need for Tennessee to have its own state film incentives, because bordering states like Louisiana and eventually Georgia, North Carolina and others were dramatically siphoning off film and television business with rebates and transferable tax credit models, even including such iconic Tennessee stories as Walk the Line, which nearly went to Shreveport. Those incentives were advocated by a wide contingent from across the state of Tennessee, including allies in Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.
Our current Tennessee Film Commissioner, Bob Raines, and his team are doing an outstanding job managing and restructuring our film incentives to enable a series like Nashville to be made and maintained here, because it has enormous impact on a number of levels from the perspectives of tens of millions of dollars in in-state spend, the casting of local actors, incorporation of local musicians and songwriters, and the major national and international exposure from a tourism perspective. If one understands the cost of a single minute of advertising time on a major network like ABC, then multiplies that by an hour, then multiplies that by 22 episodes, and the potential for multiple seasons, the cost of that kind of advertising time for the state of Tennessee would be off the charts. And all the tourism revenues generated by the Nashville series generate tax dollars that can be used by the state for education, healthcare and other areas of general state spending.
Regarding challenges, the primary ones both have to do with funding. On the state level, we are bordered by states that have competing film incentives largely driven by the fact that they have income-tax based revenue models, which will forever enable them to offer significant film incentives. On the local level, as discussed previously, our challenge has been to build bridges to financing and distribution that enable us to earn domestic and international revenues from projects that we initiate and own. The Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission is working on the first challenge. Film-Com is working on the second.
Perhaps there may be a way that the two can be symbiotic. Time and work will tell.