SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: According to film and creative industry specialist Angus Finney, the core of any film or television project always remains the same: a five-part package that consists of the script, the producer, the director, the budget and the cast. While the scale of production may change and any number of other complications may be encountered in line with the available financial resources and the vagaries of distribution and target market, any producer who has a clear and full picture of these five factors when approaching financiers will be better equipped to cope with the many other challenges and questions they will face when bringing their projects to market.
As part of the Durban FilmMart (DFM)2015 conference programme, which began on 17 July at the Tsogo Sun Elangeni Hotel in Durban, Finney presented a masterclass titled: “New Filmmaking Strategies: From South Africa to pan-Africa and towards the global market’. Finney is an expert in the business of film and draws his knowledge from years of experience in the international content creation industries. His masterclass touched on many of the common mistakes made by producers trying to source funds for their films, as well as highlighting some characteristics of the international content market of which fledgling producers may not be aware.
Financiers, distributors and sales agents will always need to get an understanding of the five-part package in order for them to assess the project and decide whether to finance or buy it. Perhaps this seems self-evident but, Finney points out, many creatives attempt to take their projects to market without having covered all these bases. All too often, Finney says, a project will be placed before financiers before it is ready. It may consist of a script that hasn’t gone through enough drafts and does not even have a director attached or it may be the work of a new entrant into the industry – a risky investment, as it were – not offering anything that could allay investors’ anxieties about his/ her lack of experience – say an established star or a tried and tested director. Financiers inevitably pass on such projects and once they have walked away they are unlikely to be enticed back.
Key to making the five-part package attractive to an investor is first to understand the market to which it is designed to cater. Finney says that, in general, African content creators do not take the market into account when planning their pitches. He identified a major pitfall in African content creation: the tendency to try and adapt the project so that it will be attractive to some nebulous, poorly identified, broad commercial market. For example, a writer may make a film in English, while it really needs to be in Zulu or Xhosa to be truly authentic. This watering down of a story’s cultural context, Finney says, only harms the project and actually makes it less universally appealing and therefore less marketable. Producers need to know their market, build a strong five-part package and, retain their cultural authenticity to be in a position to present an impressive package to a financier.
Finney also touched on the importance of persistence, stamina and momentum when marketing a film project. While it is easy to be focused and enthusiastic when starting a project, the reality is that it might be years before the project is realised – and in the meantime, it is vital that producers maintain the integrity of the project and keep it fresh.
The masterclass included Finney’s thoughts around future developments in the industry. The disruption of content distribution as a result of the arrival of over-the-top (OTT) and video-on-demand (VOD) platforms is likely to have a considerable impact on the industry. These will make the distribution end of the business far more competitive, which can only be a good thing for content creators. There is a strong possibility, Finney says, that the model that has long persisted, which puts all power in the hands of broadcasters and makes them the sole owners in perpetuity of all intellectual property they commission, may be on its last legs. Since leading public and private broadcasters will now have to compete with VOD and OTT platforms for the content they need to fill their airtime, they will possibly be forced to make their offers to content creators that much more attractive.
Broadcasters and traditional distribution companies are “the last bastion’, Finney says, against the rising tide of non-linear, on-demand content consumption requirements. Since the public at large is rapidly changing its consumption habits, these representatives of the old guard are unlikely to be able to hold out for too much longer.
Ultimately Finney’s well-attended master class, presented with worldly wise (though never world-weary) humour and clearly drawn from a wealth of personal experience, made it clear that there is no easy, step-by-step formula to selling content. There appear to be two common factors in successful proposals: compelling story and a well-organised project. “It all comes down to your story,’ Finney told one delegate asking advice for securing the further success of his project. A strong story that elicits a powerful emotional response and is fully realised within its cultural context, is hard to ignore.
As far as the coordination of project and pitch goes, Finney concluded his talk by playfully referencing the longstanding division between the creative and business sides of the industry, with the creatives seeing themselves as the heroes and “the money’ as the villains. Finney said: “It is entirely possible for good to overcome evil, but the angels need to be as organised as the mafia.’