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in Filmmaking
on Feb 3, 2010

In the new issue of Filmmaker, Esther Robinson penned “The Big Art/Little Debt Plan,” which discusses the relation of filmmakers to risk, their films, and their money. She reached out to several filmmakers by email, and their responses helped shape her article. We are running several of the responses Esther received here on the blog. Below is the one from Mynette Louie, producer, Children of Invention.

With the current environment/budgets you are seeing, do think there will be more financing gaps than usual? If yes, do you think this might create an uptick in personal debt (both for you and the filmmaker) to fill the gap? If no, how are gaps traditionally-weathered/weathered-in-this-moment?

Gaps are definitely tougher to fill these days because everyone is tighter with their money. I think this will definitely result in more personal debt for directors and producers, who are eager to make and finish their films. Most of the filmmakers I know don’t have the means to fill a financing gap with cash, so what will probably end up happening is that they’ll fill it by sacrificing their own fees. But then they have to figure out how to pay rent while prepping, shooting, editing, finishing, and now distributing their films. Also, even if producers and directors don’t sacrifice their fees at the outset, budgets are so low these days that there is very little contingency, so then our fees become the contingency.

Do you think filmmakers are realistic in their expectations of financing?

I think those who have made a feature in the last few years are definitely realistic about financing. They’ve seen what the the other side (distribution) looks like, and know how tough the road ahead is. They’re more willing to rethink how to shoot things for cheaper. I’ve even seen a shift in attitude in those who haven’t made a feature in the last few years — I think everyone’s expectations have become more sober in this new environment. I think directors and producers now have a better understanding about the greater personal responsibility they have to take to recoup the investment in their films, so when we
ask for a number, it’s a number we take very seriously as one that we can realistically pay back.

Do you think filmmakers are realistic about the amount of personal debt they acquire on behalf of their films?

This varies from filmmaker to filmmaker, but in general, yes, they are realistic about how much debt they can carry for their films. And if they aren’t, then I remind them that they need to be. We have to approach our personal living budgets in the same way we approach our film budgets — we have to be responsible with them, preserve contingency, balance them fairly among line items, etc. I often have conversations with directors in which I present cheaper alternatives, and sometimes they’ll say to me, “I really want that, so I will cover the overage myself,” at which point I’ll remind them how unwise that would be. In the days where indie films could be snatched up by buyers at festivals, it wasn’t so scary to personally cash flow financing gaps, but now, we have to be prepared for the investment recoupment cycle and the director/producer commitment to the film to
be so much longer than it ever was.

Are you realistic about the debt you acquire on behalf of the films you produce?

Yes — I will not go into personal debt for a film. That doesn’t mean I’ve never sacrificed portions of my producing fee to cover financing gaps, but it’s foolish to go into debt for a film because you end up restricting your own ability to keep producing indie films.

Has your relationship to this kind of personal debt changed over time?

I’ve become more adamant about not going into debt for a film due to a combination between the longer recoupment cycle of a film and simply getting older and requiring more stability.

Would you categorize the average filmmaker’s relationship to money as:healthy, slightly unhealthy, troubled, oblivious.

Hard to say — varies so much from filmmaker to filmmaker. But I personally like working with directors who are financially responsible in their own lives, because more than likely, that will translate to being financially responsible on a film.

What are your thoughts on going into a film with a “no personal debt/ coming out with manageable debt” plan do you think this is realistic? provide details if you can!

Yes, it is definitely realistic, and I wholly advocate coming out of a film debt-free.

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