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  Filmmakers gather at Avila for film and finance town hall meeting  
  Kansas City, MO    
July 26, 2010

Before becoming a filmmaker and professor of film and digital media at Avila University’s School of Visual and Communication Arts, Ben Meade spent 25 years working as a stock broker.

“Now, I get to do what I want to do,” a smiling Meade told an audience of around 50 at a film financing town hall meeting sponsored by the Institute for International Film Financing July 22 at Avila’s Whitfield Center.

Little did Meade know back then how big a part his business background would play in his passion for cinema. For if there was an overriding theme of the discussion at the IIFF town hall meeting, it was this: As much as film auteurs want to regard their work as art, if you don’t tend to the business aspect of it, there won’t be any work or art to undertake.

“A lot of artists feel like they can’t talk about art and business in the same breath, because it somehow cheapens their craft,” said Don Simon, a Kansas City-area attorney and counsel for The Entertainment and Intellectual Property Group LLC. “But, I tell clients, if you ever want to have a chance at making a living out of your craft, you have to treat it as a business.”

Or, as Jason Opat of Integrated Media Group out of Wichita put it: “You have to convince investors from a business structure why they should finance your film. You use the film as a poster of sorts. You have to sell them on how the movie is going to make money.”

Opat, who also sits on the board of the Kansas Film Commission, has worked on 16 feature films, including all the graphic elements of such well-known films as Transformers, Iron Man, Click and RV, all from IMG’s relatively isolated confines in Wichita.

“At first, we didn’t even tell people we were from Kansas,” he said. “We had a chip on our shoulder for a long time over this.”

In his heart, Opat said he wanted to produce and direct his own films, and he said he currently has a couple of his own projects in the works, including a film entitled Small Town USA, a documentary about small-town life across the country. He said he’s financed most of that project, thus far, with monies earned from his company.

“You have to keep film and business separate, because otherwise, it’ll make the venture capital guys nervous,” he said.

Simon used most of his 30-minute presentation stressing the importance of taking the time to sort out all the legalities, especially when it comes to intellectual property rights.

“Investors want to see a paper trail,” he said. “Make sure to get rights issues ironed out. Unfortunately, that takes an incredible amount of time, and you want to find out how much it costs. But you have to make sure you follow that legal and business process.”

Simon especially cautioned against making promises on returns of borrowed capital from friends and family members.

The good news for today’s filmmakers is that, in this technological age, making quality movies can be made more cheaply. And, with the full force of social media outlets like Facebook and YouTube, movies can get wide distribution at a fraction of the cost.

“A movie like Paranormal Activity gets made for $15,000, gets distribution, and makes something like $110 million,” said Richard Welnowski, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker now living in Kansas City. “It’s a different age. Technology has emerged so greatly. You can make movies for much less.

“Still, most important is stage 1 – concept and creativity.”

Actually, after the town hall meeting, the filmmakers on hand might have come away thinking that Welnowski’s stage 1 just might be second in importance.

You must make money.

“If you spend a lot of money and have nothing to show for it …,” Opat said. “I think that’s going to be trouble in any profession.”


About Avila University
Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.