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Saturday, September 10, 2005

A gathering of wallets

I felt like the poorest person in the room last night at the Silicon Valley Capital Club in San Jose. The "FilmAngels Meeting" was organized by the Institute for International Film Financing, a group run by Thomas Trenker that attempts to make connections between investors and filmmakers. So the group that gathered to hear pitches from six (I think it was six) different teams of filmmakers was full of what they call "high net worth individuals" - many of them with lots of experience bankrolling films - plus me.

Everyone had a PowerPoint presentation that promised phenomenal returns on your investment - 400 percent or more. There were lots of people citing break-out low-budget hits that were marketed cleverly, like "Napoleon Dynamite," "March of the Penguins," "The Blair Witch Project," "What the Bleep Do We Know," and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." After every 20 minute pitch (ten minutes of presentation, ten minutes of Q&A), a clipboard was circulated in the audience - sign up if you're interested in hearing more, and perhaps ponying up some money. (The lowest price of entry sounded like it was somewhere around $50K.)

Among the pics that were pitched:

"Gotham Café", based on a Stephen King short story. Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak is one of the producers (and he's got a cameo), so the project was pitched as a chance to invest in "another Steve and Steve."

Ralph Guggenheim, one of the early crew members at Pixar, was there touting Alligator Planet - not an individual movie, but rather a San Francisco studio geared to producing animated kids films, cheaply and quickly.

Producer Brant Smith was present, looking for a last injection of money for "Quality of Life," a feature about graffiti artists in San Francisco's Mission district. The first showings are coming up in October.

Ron Fricke was there as part of an impressive team that's working on a project called "Becoming Buddha," about the spiritual journey of Siddhartha on his way to... you guessed it, becoming Buddha.

"Two Moons" is a picture about a teenage girl who lives a double-life in 3-D chat rooms; "Skin City" is a documentary based on the book by Jack Sheehan, who was in the house to talk about his experiences with the Las Vegas sex trade (writing about it, not making a living in it).

As I understood it, this was one of IIFF's first pitch meetings of this sort... in the future, I'm sure they'll be deluged by skilled filmmakers hunting for money.


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