An Inside Look Into the 2015 London Film Festival

Guest Post by Matthew Helderman

Introduction

As our firms Buffalo 8 and BondIt have continued to respectively grow, expand and evolve, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in film & media speaking events around the world, from Los Angeles and New York to London and Cannes.
 
This past week I was invited to speak on a film financing panel at the 2015 BFI London Film Festival — the biggest festival in the UK and the strongest festival in Europe behind Cannes, Berlin & Venice.
 
I was briefed on a handful of the specifics — we’d be discussing the shifting landscape of financing in film, digital and new media formats as well as the trends we were seeing in our daily activities as producers, financiers, and creatives.
 

Event Overview

Held this past Thursday — put on by American Express and the London Film Academy — the event featured a strong group of panelists. Details from the event are linked here.
 
Each panelist brought a unique perspective to the changing landscape — which I have summarized here below:
 
Panelists included:
 
  • Matthew Helderman (Buffalo8 & BondIt) 

My overview was focused on the distribution shifts reshaping the financing environment. Whereas a film equity investment has always been a highly risky endeavor — today it’s less and less a part of the financing puzzle as minimum guarantees, tax incentives and international soft money (incentives, grants, institutional support) are reframing the investment philosophy for film as an investment asset class.

  • Jordan McGarry (VIMEO)

Jordan, Director Content Curation at VIMEO, gave a super intriguing overview on how VIMEO is aggressively getting in to the original content market (a la Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc). Jordan noted that users on VIMEO represent some of the best content creators in the world and that the brand has begun focusing on shepherding that talent for the green lighting of longer form content from series to film to stand up one man show’s. Vimeo is gearing up to build a library of internally financed & produced content.

  • Andy Mayson (ALTITUDE)

Andy, Head of Sales & Co-CEO at Altitude (UK based distribution & sales firm), also gave an insightful overview on how the international sales landscape is continually being altered. Nearly market to market (meaning, from Cannes to AFM to Berlin to MIPCOM to Toronto) the landscape is shifting. As such, content of high quality is reigning supreme and cheap B-level content is becoming more difficult to market, sell and profit from (which was not the case 10 years ago). Andy & his team also locked up the film Green Room (director Jeremy Sautnier’s follow up to the incredible 2014 release Blue Ruin) which was my favorite screening of the festival.

  • Kerry Gaffney (MOFilm)

Kerry, a director in the production department at UK & New York based MoFilm, gave an overview on crowdfunding & crowdsourcing in regards to the power of harnessing open source communities. The Kickstarter and IndieGoGo successes of the world are no secret but the building / rising swell of crowdsourced content (from ideation through distribution) continues to be a driving force in democratizing the playing field. 

  • Miranda Fleming (Fanslike Agency)

Miranda, founder & CEO of Fanlike Agency, is an expert in the production, oversight and success of filmmaking campaigns online. From crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and marketing — Miranda has seen a shift into films and filmmakers organizing a community prior to embarking upon production. As such, films enjoy a back end that is more model-able given the upfront built in audience that enables analytics to be run.

Screenings

Outside of the speaking engagement and various festival events — I was fortunate enough to see a number of films screening / premiering in the UK at the festival — including the following highlights: 

Green Room — best film I’ve seen all year and an incredible follow-up from Jeremy Sauntier from the success of BLUE RUIN in 2014. Grade-A pick up for New York upstart distributor A24, who has made some bold and successful plays in the past 36 months.

Youth — Paolo Sorrentino’s follow up to Cannes 2013 masterpiece Great Beauty. I was only able to catch a bit of the film due to other commitments but the portion I was able to grab was incredible — the visuals stunning (see Great Beauty), the pacing perfect and the writing spot on.

Jodorowsky’s Dune — exceptional documentary (in a year full of exceptional documentaries) with a story so wild it has to be true and a narration style enjoyable and inviting.

Sicario — Denis Villaneuve’s follow-up to the impressive combo of Prisoners and Enemy over the past few years. Sicario is intense, unflinching and reveal deeply rooted in the tone of the film as a whole — dark and twisted.

Suffragette — One of the largest screenings at the festival (UK premiere) and certain to be an Oscar contender on multiple levels. A solid period piece that is both timely and well-executed — I expect to see writing, acting and production design as shoe-in nominations.

The Program — Stephen Frears’ follow-up to the incredible turn with Philomena is a smart and well-executed film, yet there are flaws. The pacing is great and the acting is top-notch but there is literally nothing explored that isn’t already known on the surface of the story — being the biggest downfall of a living athlete, perhaps ever.

Steve Jobs — UK premiere screening for press — fully packed screening of 400+. This is the film I have most been excited for all year — I love Apple, I love Steve Jobs, I love Walter Isaacson’s mesmerizing book, I love Aaron Sorkin and I like Danny Boyle. All things considered — it was a fun film and another certain Oscar contender. There are numerous flaws — not the least of which being the fact that it didn’t much feel like Steve Jobs, almost at all.

 

Weekly Takeaways For the Future

Waiting here in the Heathrow terminal bound back to Los Angeles this evening — I notice no less than four new release film posters throughout the terminal. Point being — it’s award season and everything appears to be in full swing once again.
 
The festival, like most top events, proved to be enjoyable, valuable and enlightening. Watching the shifting landscape of where film financing is likely to shake out is always a fun activity — if nothing else other than always intriguing. 
 
Film will continued to be financed, period. Film is able to enjoy a certain non-economic driven aura that very few (if any) other industries experience. The allure of the events, red carpets, movie stars, romanticism and (slim) chance of hitting a home run at the box office or at the arthouse continue to perpetuate the industry forward.
 
The great news is that another year is now entering the final quarter and we’ve been witness (as audience members) to yet another exceptional cycle of strong content, both in the mainstream and in the underground.
 
The bad news — no one can really predict where we’re spinning, just hold on and keep chugging forward.

Matthew Helderman began his career as a floor runner at the New York Stock Exchange before entering the entertainment business as a co-producer at a Paramount Studios based production company. In 2010, Helderman launched Buffalo 8 Productions, a feature film & commercial production company with Luke Taylor. By 2014 Buffalo 8 Productions had built a library of 30+ feature films ranging from micro-budgets to $5M features, a roster of commercial directors and a full post-production facility.
 
In 2013 Helderman founded BondIt to solve the multitude of financing difficulties found in the entertainment & new media business. Beginning with union deposits (SAGAFTRA, DGA, IATSE) BondIt offered short term financing solutions to independent feature films. Today, BondIt offers financing products for a variety of media solutions including union deposits, tax credits, bridge loans, minimum guarantee financing and direct credit lines for media business.