Microbudget Films Aren’t Getting Covid Coverage

By Pickle  November 3, 2021

Expert speakers of Production Conference-I at AFM discussed in length about how Covid protocols have increased film production costs and what makes a film investment-worthy

With Covid disrupting all fields, entertainment sector is no exception. Covid protocols can be anywhere from 8 to 20% of your budget and the pandemic certainly has caused the budgets to increase because of the necessary requirements, said speakers at Production Conference-I at AFM.

While Jeremy Kay, Americas Editor, Screen Daily, was the moderator of the session, the panelists were Brian Beckmann, CFO, Arclight Films; Michael Heimler, Head of Production and Finance, Black Bear Pictures; and Kent Sanderson, Acquisitions and Ancillary Distribution, Bleecker Street.  

A lot of money is solely earmarked for Covid, Covid testing, protocols and procedures, insurance, said Beckmann, adding that it certainly has caused the budgets to increase because of the necessary requirements whether it’s on state level, government level, financing level, bond level.

“There’s also a lot of microbudget films that aren’t getting the Covid coverage or aren’t going with a bond which is a guerilla type of filmmaking…which can be risky,” he said.

Echoing the same, Heimler said the reality is today there are Covid costs that are a necessary line you need to be prepared for from a variety of perspectives and a variety of reasons- to protect your production, making sure everything you do makes sense creatively, financially, logistically. “I think that’s the biggest change over the last 18 months. Covid protocols can be anywhere from 8 to 20% of your budget,” Heimler added.

Talking about what are they looking for in the elements of a script, Heimler said, “We try and look for things that are unique within whatever genre that it’s in.  We don’t look for one specific thing since we’ve made horror films, romantic comedies, dramas, but try and do things that you haven’t necessarily seen before. Ideally our motivation is where you find that cross section of quality and also commercial.”

Speaking about the same, Beckmann said, “It’s really about the uniqueness and originality of the script. Even if it’s a product type script we’ve seen before, having that unique flavor to it really gives it something else to compete with.”

Presenting another view, Sanderson said, “Bleecker is primarily and an acquisitions company but that doesn’t mean that we don’t come on early. 50-60% of our slate we come onto during something resembling the package stage and the financing stage.  4 out of 6 of the films coming out next year – we came onto when there was maybe one or two actors committed a director and a script and a production plan.”

Throwing light on co-financing, Heimler said, “We may not go out and bring on a co-financier, but the way we might mitigate some of our risk would be to pre-sell international or in the US or world and to know that we have a backstop value in certain territories and understand what level of risk we have that’s open against the US or certain territories. That really comes down to at the point that we’re introducing a project to the market, what kind of package do we have and how good of a sense our international partners and buyers are going to have on what the project is going to be based on the package we’re presenting to them.”

On the rise of streamers and shrinking theatrical window, Sandeer said, more than ever, we are having to consider what makes a film that will travel well on VOD, because the specialty market has not come back for theatrical, it’s nowhere close.

“So, the way we’ve approached it is we look at theatrical as one tool on a Swiss army knife. We’ve released 14-15 movies since COVID began and…there’s probably been 7-8 windowing strategies, VOD price points, length of theatrical windows, and everything varies. So, it becomes a much more extensive calculation.”

Last, but not the least, talking about content, Heimler said content is doing well in many other revenue places, not just theatrically, for their specialty type of projects, that those audiences are still consuming those, but in different ways than they did previously. “So I think that’s the biggest adaptation that’s going on now, where the different segments of the audience are watching different genres.”

At the end of the day, people still want to see great, unique content with actors and filmmakers that they know and love and want to see more of.

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