29 Sep Filml Fund-amentals: Where Scammers Roam
There’s seems to be a mythic notion that I have money. How else can I explain the great movie “investment” offers I receive every week.
So let me first set the record straight. I don’t have money. Not really. Certainly not the $10,000 to $10,000,000 that various folks are hoping I will want to invest into their movies. I am even having to pass on an offer of cheap land in India (though what I would do with a couple of acres over there leaves me baffled).
The internet is a vast land of opportunity. Not necessarily good opportunities, but lots and lots of offers. Some are legitimate (though those folks are increasingly moving over to the crowd funding sites). Some are extremely illegitimate. That is especially true of most people offering some form of “evaluation” services and/or financial “arrangement” offers.
Then there is the vast gray zone. Over the past year I have seen and examined a wide variety of movie investment offers that wander somewhere between possible scam and presumed incompetence. Offers that would be too good to be true if anyone could actually figure out what the offer was about. Movie deals that sounded as if they were being made up after one too many shots of vodka on a Saturday night. In other words, they were almost stupid enough to be real.
Which is why I have stuck to a real basic routine for evaluating the legitimacy of any proposal. The actual evaluation of any business deal is a long and difficult process. But normally I can make a reasonable evaluation of the possible legitimacy of the deal itself within about two hours (and that includes several major coffee breaks). In many cases, I can make that determination within 30 minutes. That also includes a coffee break. I like my coffee.
First and foremost, I go online and try to find out if the person making the offer even exists. These days, almost everyone alive has some form of online presence. Anyone trying to make an indie movie has to have an online presence. The only known exception to this rule is the nitwit who was behind that anti-Muslim film on YouTube. Obviously, he didn’t want to be found.
Normally, this is the easy part. You run their name through the search engine and start scrolling through the material that turns up. Most indie filmmakers looking for investors will have a Facebook site that you can access. To be honest, I would only take the information on their Facebook site at (no pun intended) face value. Everyone tries to put the most positive spin on a social network site. For example, they could have a post saying: “Talked with Tom Hanks yesterday.” What it could really mean: “Tom Hanks’ lawyer called with an injunction.” You have got to take online information with a grain of salt, and maybe a shot of vodka.
If you are lucky, you may find some type of third-party reference to the person you are looking up. That can be useful if and when it is an honest-to-god objective third-party viewpoint. Good con artists can (and do) set up bogus web sites in order to falsely present what appears to be third-party references. That means that you also have to check the legitimacy of the web sites you are looking at. There are various ways of doing that through IP addresses (just use WhatIsMyIPAddress.com). If you use the Firefox browser, you can download and use Flagfox. Trust me, you will not be paranoid in double-checking these web sites.
Another bad indicator is when you discover that the person uses his or her name inconsistently. I recently checked into a film proposal with, either, several persons involved with the same last name or one person with several first names. The material is surprisingly unclear, but it sounds as if it is the same person. Let’s be honest, why should you trust somebody who can’t even trust their own name? Besides, in filmmaking (and most every other form of business), the person’s name is their brand and the only reason they would keep flipping the brand around is simply to confuse both the potential investor and future investigators.
Same goes for the company’s name. During the past year, I have seen one so-called indie film production company go through at least three different names. That is simply two too many. Again, why should you trust them if they don’t even trust their company’s name? Also, always be concerned if the company’s name bears a striking resemblance to a different and more famous company name. The confusion created by the name similarity is not a coincidence and it is always a bad sign. If this were a football game, a flag would be thrown on the play.
Likewise, be very careful about references people make to the many famous people that they claim are connected to the project or that they claim to “know.” I have recently seen several projects being pitched online in which the filmmaker claims to have various famous names “interested” in the movie. Aside from the fact that “interested” doesn’t mean a thing in this business-lots of movie folks hate saying no, but they rarely mean yes-any indie movie is lucky if they can get one known actor involved. Five to six famous names? Unless the filmmaker is Wes Anderson, it is extremely unlikely (as in impossible). Unless they can offer firm proof of a “name” person’s involvement, this is another major flag on the play.
Always be on the alert for the “Martin Scorsese” effect. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there claiming to have some type of vague, ill-defined association with Martin Scorsese. More people than Scorsese has probably ever met in his whole life. And the alleged association is always nebulous. Like, maybe they once worked in a New York coffee shop and he stopped in one time, you know. They served him his espresso and so naturally they and Marty are tight with each other. I used to throw a flag on Marty’s name every time it appeared in a proposal. Then I ran out of flags.
Even better (or should I say worse) is when they refer to all of the major people involved in the movie but won’t say who they are…like suddenly everyone got real shy? Instead, they merely claim that they are using an editor who is associated with Martin Scorsese (what is it with this guy’s name) or a screenwriter who once wrote for Spielberg etc etc. Most professionals in this business will allow you to use their name if they are involved with the project. If you are not using their name, it is because they are not working on your movie. No “ifs,” no “ands”, no “buts.”
As a general rule, if you encounter any of these issues, that should be a major warning sign about the proposal. If you encounter two issues, that should send you running out of the room. If you are faced with three or more and are still wanting to invest, then please just do yourself a favor and send me the money.
I promise to spend it wisely.