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MENTORING MATTERS: GETTING A LEG UP DOWN UNDER- A café-based lesson in feature film finance

Posted By Scott McConnell, Monday, August 10, 2015

Like any good film story, I had a goal and a problem. The solution turned out to be the PGA Mentoring Program.

I had worked successfully as a non-fiction producer, but I wanted to work in fiction features as a writer and producer. How was I going to make that transition, especially as the years were creeping on? I felt I had the right script (my own low-budget drama that I’d been developing/pitching for three years), but what I understood about film finance would barely fill the zero in a net profit statement.

After I applied to the PGA Mentoring Program, I was excited when I learned that I had been slotted with Peter Bevan, English-born but now LA-based producer of 14 features and current executive vice president of production at Umedia.

I prepared dozens of questions about feature production while Peter efficiently organized our first meeting at the exclusive and swanky Soho House. After being surprised that Soho House actually let me in, I met Peter: tall, calm, affable and half my age! We politely small-talked, then I peppered him with questions about topics like foreign tax incentives, pitching equity investors, finance from presales (especially the market value of male vs. female talent) and contacting Hollywood players who might have a personal interest in the themes of the story.

And that was just meeting #1. He arranged meeting #2 at Jones in West Hollywood. I was still struggling with the complexities of film finance, so Peter patiently went through how it works, including the relationships between parts of a finance package: equity, tax shelter, pre-sales, gap, tax incentives. We also worked up lists of Australian and British talents who are strong in the foreign presale market. (I am Australian born and will film the story there.) Peter also advised me about finding an Australian co-producer, including the need to protect myself as the originating producer.

Meeting #3, our last, was at Graffiti Café on La Brea. As I walked into yet another classy café, I blurted out my suspicion to Peter that I was really being filmed for some hidden camera reality show about cafés. Peter kindly allayed my fears as we discussed government development money and pre-production. (Be 100% certain that the money is in the bank and accessible to you!) When it came to filming, Peter explained how to watch the budget and use a light touch, giving the director space and knowing when to be and not be on the set.

Peter was the total pro—always generous with his time and expertise, always benevolent during my constant quizzing and, most of all, always thoughtful and informed in his answers and advice. Happily, Peter and I remain in touch, and he is still answering my questions.

I had a problem, and the PGA Mentoring Program solved it.

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