Why the Film World Needs More Angel Investors

Why the Film World Needs More Angel Investors

In this post from Slated.com’s Filmonomics blog, Filmonomics Editorial Director Colin Brown explains why it’s not completely ludicrous to suggest that the high-risk film world could use some angel investors.

It should also be noted that getting angel investors is, in fact, Slated’s bread-and-butter, so they have more than just a horse in this race.  Let us know what you think about Brown’s call for a “standardized, simplified, friction-free and
open-book method for seeking out and seeding great new stories.”

film world may not be fully acquainted yet with angel investors but the
theatre world certainly is. Broadway, after all, is where that “angel”
concept originated as far back as the early 1900s. Today, nearly a
century since those proto-crowdfunders first started shaking the money
tree, the angels’ halo effect has grown to extend way beyond The Great
White Way. The very future of American business now depends on those
small dollar increments from private backers.

evidence comes in the 50,000 companies in the U.S. that were started by
seed capital last year, compared to just 600 financed through venture
capital firms. This shifting dynamic is significant enough for a ForbesMagazine columnist to declare recently that: “
angel investing is becoming the new venture capital.”

exactly this new seed money operates – and whether it translates well
to independent film financing – has become an ardent topic of
conversation particularly among those in 
Hollywood busy ingratiating themselves with Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial culture further up the Californian coast.

has every reason to eye this new mother lode. Angel money represents
one of the last frontiers of untapped smart money. A recent survey cited
by that same Forbes article
counts 756,000 people in the U.S. as having made an angel investment or
participated in a friends-and-family round of financing. That number
could swell almost tenfold, to encompass the estimated 7.2 million
people in the U.S. currently accepted as “accredited investors”, once
the SEC details the rules of engagement for newly signed JOBS Act that
is designed to unleash a torrent of micro-finance.

anticipation of that impending explosion, some 9,000 web domains have
been registered with the word “crowdfunding” in their name, 
according to analysis by the North American Securities Administrators Association. There were just 900 at the beginning of 2012.

much of this potential capital will be channeled into film may well
depend on the degree to which movie industry adapts to the San Francisco
Bay Area’s own behavioural patterns and expectations. While angel
investing is rooted in New York’s Broadway, a creative hotbed that would
seem to share many of cinema’s risk characteristics, it has become
heavily tilted towards technology and software. Which also means that
today’s angel investor demands far greater clarity and ease of
transaction than has been the norm for film finance.

“Film investing is certainly not as simple as tech investing, but it should be, and can be achieved,” evangelizes Slated co-founder Stephan Paternot, a serial entrepreneur who invests in feature films both personally and through another company he helped create, PalmStar. He points to AngelList,
the website that matches early stage startups with investors, as an
inspiring reference point. “The reason AngelList has become such a
success is that it offers standardization and ease of transacting,
transparency, a trusted network of entrepreneurs who bring quality deal
flow, and accredited investors who understand how to invest online.”
Slated was designed to induce much the same transformational effect on
film investing.

there are enough shared similarities between Hollywood and Silicon
Valley to warrant a concerted attempt to bridge those two peculiar
worlds. Both ecosystems, to paraphrase AngelList’s co-founder Naval
Ravikant, are two-sided marketplaces that are extremely reputation-,
trust- and networking-based. Indeed, the way Ravikant describes how tech
information is exchanged in 
a recent video interview with TechCrunch, could just as easily apply to the whispering corridors and eateries of Los Angeles.

is a gossip network that underlies Silicon Valley. At every dinner you
go to or event there is some VC or entrepreneur who says ‘Hey, did you
know so-and-so just left that gig and is now available?’ Or “Did you see
what these guys are doing – it is really cool’. Or ‘This VC just raised
a big new fund and is looking for investments in this area.’ That is
really how information travels and it should: these are trust-based
gossip networks so you know you can trust whatever node you are talking
to. But at the same time there are some things that you want to
broadcast or don’t mind broadcasting. And so with AngelList we are
taking the transparent side of that and putting it online. For the rest
of the gossip network, people trade deal flow, they trade hires, they
trade acquisition information, they trade where you can find a customer
or a good partnership. That’s the secret currency. At AngelList what we
are doing is printing that currency and giving it away.”

is the first to point out that while AngelList might be able to move
the needle, it cannot take over the entire tech marketplace. For one
thing, a lot of the value attached to this info-currency comes in who
said it, when they said it, and to whom. But for those cut off from that
daily exchange – let’s say, an Atlanta-based startup that is taking off
and enjoying non-linear growth – AngelList is a much more immediate
megaphone for grabbing the attention of potential investors than the
time-consuming ritual of hobnobbing all the way from dinner events in
Georgia to networking hangouts along Sand Hill Road. The rising presence
of internationally-sourced productions on Slated, including 
SEOUL SEARCHING, starring Gangnam Style’s very own Psy, and SUNRISE, now weeks away from shooting in Mumbai, suggests the same is also true for indie film too.

the film/tech investing analogy really starts to breaks down, however,
is in the mechanisms for accessing the best investment propositions –
the much vaunted ‘deal flow’. When it comes to startups, angel investors
are accustomed to spreading their investments across a multitude of
picks at once. Knowing how hard it is to compete with Silicon Valley’s
star investors for the hottest proposals, angel individuals started
affiliating themselves 15 years ago into angel groups. A breed of
prolific “super angels” emerged that borrowed from the VC rule-book and
formed funds that invested other angels’ money into tech startups as
well as their own. The tech caste system between to blur: angels assumed
an ever bigger chunk of seed capital, while the VCS started investing
smaller dollar amounts in promising startups.

film world, on the other hand, has no comparable system for investing
small amounts of money across a wide portfolio of independent film
projects. No angel groups, no venture capital firms. The inability to
create collective investment groups – of which there are at more than
300 in Silicon Valley – inhibits access to the best projects and also
the ability offload the thorny tasks of vetting and due diligence.
Slated goes some way to emulating the tools that tech investors use for
evaluating “social proof” in any given project (see “7 Silicon Valley
Secrets for Slated Success
”). But this is just the beginning. The next
step, surely, is to change the way that film deals are structured so
that early capital has a standardized, simplified, friction-free and
open-book method for seeking out and seeding great new stories. Until
then, angel investing in film will remain devilishly difficult.

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