IPOs for Film
November 19, 2003 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Taking it public. Ethan Hawke is looking for investors for his new movie, "Billy Dead". For $8.75 a share of preferred stock (and only in blocks of 100 - ticker symbol "BILLY"), Hawke hopes to raise about US $7.3 Million through his broker, Civilian Capital. According to a consultant with Civilian, potential investors will be able to "invest in a film maker, a story or a star."

Is this ushering in a new golden age of public media ownership, or an age of increased corporate hegemony? Also, for what other artforms would you like to see such investment opportunites? Finally, in what directors/actors/storylines etc. would you like to invest?
posted by SilentSalamander (29 comments total)
I'd invest in this Metafilter Co-op Production
posted by phyrewerx at 7:15 PM on November 19, 2003

As a computer game designer, I'm pretty excited about this strategy of raising capital. I'm wondering, though, if potential investors would hesitate to invest in something like a game (despite the fact that game sales per year are more than film sales - including rentals)...

I would invest in probably just about any movie screenplay based on a Phillip K. Dick or Kurt Vonnegut novel. As far as actors: gee, maybe Benecio Del Toro - a fine actor, but still probably a pretty good price/return ratio.
posted by SilentSalamander at 7:16 PM on November 19, 2003

I hope this quickly leads to the development of funds that support amended copyright terms.

I'll invest if the work gets turned over to the public domain in 15 years.
posted by rudyfink at 7:18 PM on November 19, 2003

Suckers. I can get a piece of the action for $7 at my local megaplex -- good luck on getting any return on your $875 movie wheeler-dealer dream.

If the script was any good, how come one of the commercial houses haven't snapped it up?
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:21 PM on November 19, 2003

If it's anything as bad as his first movie "Chelsea Walls," my financial advice is to spend the money on beer instead.
posted by muckster at 7:40 PM on November 19, 2003

SilentSalamander, how profitable are games though? I was always under the impression that it wasn't a terribly profitable industry due to the long development cycles and fight for shelf space.

As far as this particular idea goes in general I'm not sure I understand it. If I buy 1 share of Berkshire Hathaway then I'm actually betting that over the long haul this company will increase marketshare (or enter new markets) and be increasingly profitable. This causes the price of the stock to increase, at least in the long term.

Now contrast that to a movie. A movie takes a couple of years to make (I'm making up this number, I really have no idea, but it's not instant) and gets released. Most of the return on investment that the investor can expect from that movie is concentrated in the first year: box office sales up front, then some number of months later video rentals, pay per view and cable. After that it's a steep downhill slide in terms of income. So if you follow Benjamin Graham's advice (or Warren Buffet, who learned a thing or two from Benjamin Graham) then this isn't a good investment. It has no long term future. In fact you're probably somewhat better off purchasing a lottery ticket.

A more likely fit for the stock market would be shares in a television program, especially a sitcom. Some of more popular ones run for decades. Heck, I bet I Love Lucy still runs.
posted by substrate at 7:40 PM on November 19, 2003

Watch out for Hollywood Accounting...

And, yes, I Love Lucy is still re-running on cable and in syndication. But that's something you'd need to own a TV to know about.
posted by wendell at 7:46 PM on November 19, 2003

If it's anything as bad as his first movie "Chelsea Walls," my financial advice is to spend the money on beer instead.

That can be arranged.
posted by bdk3clash at 7:53 PM on November 19, 2003

If the script was any good, how come one of the commercial houses haven't snapped it up?

Commercially speaking, it makes little sense to go outside of the proven formula, so plots and templates are recycled film after film. I can't blame them looking after their safe investment. Probably the big movie houses aren't clamoring to grab Hawke's project because it is a bit off the beaten path.

I think Orson Welles spent more than a year trying to get the studios to release "Citizen Kane". By some this is considered the best film ever made. Now, without a knowledge of the context of film production at the time (was Kane's storyline far outside of the norm at the time?) one cannot make a judgment about if this was a factor for the studios, but I suspect it was. Also, I must mention that despite its rave reviews, "Citizen Kane" was not a commercial success, so economically speaking the big commercial houses may have been correct in not releasing the film. However, I have heard about wild success stories (critically AND economically) for films in the past. I can't give any examples right now (and that weakens my argument), but maybe you've heard these stories, too. Anyone care to give an example?

substrate - games can be very profitable indeed. You're right, though - just because game sales exceed that of movies, doesn't mean the profit margins are higher. As far as shelf space is concerned - I think the movie industry has an analog with "cineplex space" and shelf space at the rental stores. Furthermore, the development time for many first class games is about the same for most films (although game development time continues to increase).

Yeah, I agree with you this might not be a good bet for a long-term investment - there appears to be no growth, after all. There could be sequels, though this doesn't really fit the bill as sustainable growth is concerned. A lot of what I've read on game development, though, is on the creation of a brand. For example, the Star Wars franchise created a brand with toys, games, costumes, lunchboxes, etc. all of which continue to sell well today. How one creates a marketable brand for films like "Kane" - well, that's a real challenge. Something tells me the Orson Welles lunchbox won't sell like hotcakes.

The TV serial investment idea is a good one, I think. In addition, one could invest in actors' or musicians' careers. Own a few hundred shares of Tom Hanks? (But then again, what about Schwarzeneggar, whose film career seems to be finished)
posted by SilentSalamander at 8:03 PM on November 19, 2003

If the script was any good, how come one of the commercial houses haven't snapped it up?

I thought this originally as well. But seeing as Keith Gordon has signed on to direct, I'd say it's probably pretty good. Though I haven't seen The Singing Detective yet, I think Gordon is one of the more undervalued directors working today, especially when it comes to adaptations (Waking the Dead, Mother Night, Midnight Clear, The Chocolate War).

7 million doesn't seem like a lot of money for Hollywood to make back these days, especially for a dark thriller. Were I financially sound, I'd probably drop some cash on this.

Also, you'd be amazed at how many good scripts don't get made by Hollywood. I've been hearing about "Edward Ford," an unproduced Lem Dobbs script since I was a kid. Though I've never read it (can't find a copy), it's legendary--repeatedly referred to as the best unproduced screenplay around.
posted by dobbs at 8:04 PM on November 19, 2003

I think he may need the money for his upcoming divorce. And 7 million is pocket change, movie-wise, no?
posted by amberglow at 8:12 PM on November 19, 2003

S_S, your Kane analogy is way off. RKO produced Kane and at the time, Welles received what was the greatest contract a director had ever been offered, and it was his first film. The film "failed" and almost didn't see the light of day not because it was offbeat or not standard Hwood fare, but because it "portrayed" the life of William Randolph Hearst, one of the most powerful Americans alive at the time. Hearst did his damnedest to bury the film. He was unsuccessful in the long run (we still have the film) but his publicity mill ruined Welles and buried the film commercially.

As for a succesful film that made millions and shocked Hwood, I can think of an example we're probably all familiar with: Blair Witch Project. The distro that released it bought it for a "paltry" million bucks. It went on to bring in close to $200M if I remember correctly. At the time, another distro (a bigger one, though I forget which), said "The only thing scary about Blair Witch is how much Artisan Entertainment paid for it."

As William Goldman said of Hollywood: Nobody knows anything.
posted by dobbs at 8:13 PM on November 19, 2003

One thing that may end up biting investors in the ass - investors probably will want to read the screenplay before investing in something like this. If the film relies heavily on suspense - or if there is/are a/some plot-winding "gothca(s)", the movie may end up being compromised because everyone knows how it turns out in the end.

OP: dobbs - my bad. Blair Witch Project then.
posted by SilentSalamander at 8:18 PM on November 19, 2003

the challenge for what to invest in is the variables of quality vs. what i want to see in the world. as much as i love gilliam, i could never invest in him due to his histrionics. at the same time, i wouldn't want to invest in anything bearing the title card "ein film von michael bay" regardless of how well it would potentially do, because do we really need anything else by michael bay in the world?

the one filmmaker that would balance out the 'mersh and artistic aspects is hal hartley -- not solely because his work means a lot to me, but because he is the one filmmaker whose work has continually grown closer to breaking even over a period of time (henry fool made a small profit, even). he attracts a wider audience with each film, and makes good films. that's worth investing in.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:50 PM on November 19, 2003

Films = traditionally one of the worst investments.

That being said, watch this film turn into a blockbuster, and a market in film speculation bloom overnight.

Why not? You will be soon able to speculate in the open market about where the next terrorist attack will happen.
posted by jazzkat11 at 8:50 PM on November 19, 2003

pxe2000, I feel completely the opposite about Hartley. I was a huge fangeek of his from the time The Unbelievalble Truth played the Toronto film fest, but, to me, his films have gotten progressively worse since Simple Men (the one shining light after that film being Amateur, which is among his best). His last film, No Such Thing, was atrocious--an abomination. (Sorry if I've offended you with the statement, I haven't followed your link yet.)

Were I ever to be tempted to invest in an indie filmmaker, it'd probably be Richard Kelly, David Gordon Green, Chel White (who hasn't made a feature yet), or Lodge Kerrigan. I'd also be quick to bet that if Hollywood ever tempts Michael Haneke to make an "American" film and leaves him to his own devices, he would kick some serious ass at the box office.

However, given today's film climate (Premiere magazine chose McG as a director to watch, for instance), it's not likely any of these people will get a chance to make something with a respectable budget (though I guess Green's Confederacy of Dunces should count for something).

To me, what would be more interesting than investing in single films, would be stock in writers, directors, or actors--the way people can buy stock in David Bowie or whoever.
posted by dobbs at 9:17 PM on November 19, 2003

offtopic, re: Ethan Hawke + Uma Thurman

The split reportedly occurred after Thurman learned about his affair with a young model while both husband and wife were filming separate movies in Canada.

God, how annoying. Guy gets beautiful, intelligent woman, then cheats on her with 22-year old starlet, devastating the lives of their two children. What an ass. Screw his movie.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:39 PM on November 19, 2003

Haven't films been investor funded since the industry began? What's new about this?

In 1997, talking to my money man, I remember being shown the propsectus for a Bruce Willis movie called "Simon Says", which became "Mercury Rising" by the time it hit video store shelves.
posted by elphTeq at 9:42 PM on November 19, 2003

dobbs: you are more civil to me than i was to you when you admitted to liking conor oberst, so i feel i owe you some explanation. :) i do think hartley's "major" films have shown a progression, and that he hasn't made a truly major film since henry fool (which, while imperfect, had a thought-provoking, engaging quality), though he has kept working. in spite of its backing and relatively wide distribution, i can't consider no such thing a "major" work of his given the struggle that had in getting any sort of release. i'd like to think that, given the amount of practise he's had since the release of henry fool, his next "major" film will rise to the occasion.

of all the directors you listed, i would want to invest money in richard kelly due to the quality to success ratio of donnie darko and the promise of his next film. chel white is an amazing filmmaker (i showed photocopy cha cha at a club this weekend), but i don't know how well his stories would extend over a feature format. the director you mentioned that makes me the most nervous is david gordon green -- not because of his formidable talent, but because of the dangerous precedent the dunces casting sets.
posted by pxe2000 at 10:24 PM on November 19, 2003

A few big flops and everyone will rush back to the investment safety of their local OTB.
posted by HTuttle at 10:27 PM on November 19, 2003

elphteq, what's new about it is that it would be through a stock broker, i believe, which has never been done on a film basis, only on a studio basis.

pxe2000, cool that you like Chel's work. Photocopy Cha Cha is superb. I also like Dirt a lot. I was considering distributing a bunch of White's films about 5 years back (I owned a small video label) but had to bow out, unfortunately. I agree on the casting of Dunces but still have faith. The way I look at it, it could have been the same actors and another director and that would have been much worse (Shadyac, for instance). I'd heard for years that Soderbergh was going to direct it (Spielberg as well), but he seems to have a history of bowing out when directors he admires show interest (he was supposed to direct the Che film that I believe Terry Malick's now doing, which is great).
posted by dobbs at 11:35 PM on November 19, 2003

I think Orson Welles spent more than a year trying to get the studios to release "Citizen Kane".

And catch 22 was something Wells wanted for his own. Instead, Orson got to attempt to pin a medal to a naked man and utter something like 'you are a strange little man' I'm sure some Wellsian afficianto will correct what I've said, for my memory of that part of the film is not 100%.

The comment over on techdirt is more interesting....Mike thinks it would be pouring money down a rat hole. Want To Buy The Most Expensive Movie Ticket Of Your Life?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:49 PM on November 19, 2003

If anyone wants to invest in the arts, well, art school tuition is kinda pricey and i've got some student loans you see...
posted by atom128 at 11:55 PM on November 19, 2003

dobbs: an acquaintence of mine turned me on to chel white. his work is really, really wonderful (still haven't seen dirt), and given some of the other material i showed in the program (specifically the german short copy shop), appropriate. cool that you almost had a hand in getting his work out to a wider audience.

i'm at the same point with dunces that i'm at with the rumoured film version of jeanette winterson's the passion, which is apparently being helmed by another amazing filmmaker -- kasi lemmons. it's the kind of film at which she would excel were this not miramax's second slinky piece of oscar bait for gwyneth paltrow. at least dunces is not conceived as a vehicle for ferrell's dramatic side, but the casting is negative-interesting enough to give me pause.

re: malick...if there was ever a director i wouldn't bet the mortgage on, it would be he. that is an amazing project, and i hope he comes through.
posted by pxe2000 at 11:59 PM on November 19, 2003

This isn't the first time this has been done, by any means. Paul Hogan - of Crocodile Dundee fame - has done this with a couple of movies, I think. Anyone remember Lightning Jack?
posted by bwerdmuller at 1:40 AM on November 20, 2003

Civil_Disobedient -- you are quick to judge but have no clue as to the dynamics of what went on. Afterall she is the one to divorce and leave, not him. On the surface it looks justified but we really don't know what went on before and after the fact.
posted by stbalbach at 6:13 AM on November 20, 2003

Well, stbalbach, the info from Divorce Magazine (I just can't believe there's a mag for divorce) mentions:

Thurman, who will soon appear onscreen in Quentin Tarantino's upcoming Kill Bill, was shooting Paycheck with costar Ben Affleck in Vancouver when she found out about her husband's affair. Hawke was in Montreal filming Taking Lives with Angelina Jolie when he met 22-year-old Jen Perzow.

"Ethan and Jen went out of their way to avoid being seen in public," another source told Sky News, "but they still shared intimate evenings at his rented loft. Ethan was giving Jen gifts until the time his movie wrapped in August and he left Montreal."

Another quote from another source says Hawke explained his actions because he was "sure she was having an affair with movie-maker Quentin Tarantino." Just to keep things Fair and Balanced.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:38 AM on November 20, 2003

This is also quite a common practice in Japan,as I understand it. Due to the success of this kind of funding, from movies to games, there is a new investor-related effort to back women 'competing' for a contract to be a new cover girl..

here's a link.
posted by rich at 6:54 AM on November 20, 2003

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