Smart Money is on the Hunt for Deals in Toronto

Graham Taylor sounds off on opportunities in indie film’s changed landscape

Graham Taylor, agent and true believer, is the last of the great cheerleaders of the independent film industry.

Either that or he’s the among the first to see the start of a robust return to viability with interest from capital, smart producers and companies with libraries to sell.

“The whole independent film space is ripe for change,” he says, chain-smoking (brave!) outside the Four Seasons in Toronto.

We knew that. But Taylor has a notion how.

The agent now runs the newly-merged William Morris Endeavor independent film division, having displaced longtime indie world agents Cassian Elwes and Rena Ronson, who were ousted by the agency’s board after the two agencies merged earlier this year.

Taylor’s approach to the independent film business differes from the volume sales approach that once allowed such hard-sellers as Cinetic’s John Sloss to dominate festivals with a long list of films for sale that he would leverage in bidding wars among distributors.

With so few distributors left, and an indie world left struggling for air, this approach can no longer suffice.

“Talent wants to be owner-operators now,” he said. (Edward Norton, his client is one, who has brought a film he produced, "Leaves of Grass," to the festival.) “The straight, finished-sales movie business – go to a festival and sell it – we don’t believe in that as a volume business. Movies now need more attention and care. You have to bring in corporate partners, be involved in the marketing.”

The word among financiers is that there are deals in the offing between video distribution companies with moderately-sized libraries, such as First Look and Genius, and deals to be made with the newly-capitalized producers such as Mark Gill’s FilmDepartment, Jere Hausfater’s Essential Entertainment, MRC, Intrepid and others.

For the first time in a couple of years, banks have shown up in force at the festival, looking for partners in whom to entrust financing. Bain Capital, Goldman Sachs, UBS and governments like Abu Dhabi’s are all looking for partners, looking to make deals.

Why, you might ask?

“You’ve had a collapse overall in pricing,” said Taylor. “Film, talent, libraries, advertising, the syndicated business – it’s all down. The smart money comes back early and rebuilds.

“A lot of people sat out last year,” he said. “It’s a good time to play.”