In an unquantifiable business, backing talent is the best bet - provided you know where to look, says Colin Brown
There is a belief that all this new equity and debt financing that has gushed into the film industry over the past couple of years is somehow 'smart money'.
Because the newly minted billions are being funneled by sophisticated hedge-fund managers, enterprising tycoons and innovative bankers, using all the latest risk-assessment tools at their disposal, a distinction has been made between this nouveau herd and all the dumb lambs who were fleeced the last time around. And slaughtered the time before that by an industry well honed in the arts of cold seduction and creative book-keeping.
In truth, those now drawn to the film sector just on the brilliance of their financial algorithms are as blind to their foolishness as their star-struck predecessors. No amount of numerical wizardry and accounting acumen can compensate for deficient storytelling skills. Even the best business plans have foundered on the absence of a blockbuster.
Computational analysis might help hedge against failure, but it cannot conjure up the formula for creative inspiration, and with it those defining zeitgeist movies that generate the returns that first attracted all this new money. The costs of making and marketing movies are too astronomical to muddle through on the occasional modest hit. Even genre movies need flair to distinguish themselves from the mechanically made pack.
Much as they need the comfort blanket of their five-year spreadsheets, the smarter money knows not to put too much stock in numbers. After all, it takes so many years for a project to gestate, be made and then see back its investment from all available revenue streams, that even the most recent and reliable film data offers just a distorted glance in the rear-view mirror. By the time money is staked on a new slate, the fundamental economics of the global marketplace have mutated and moved on.
Fortunately, today's shrewdest financial brains have realised this and are entrusting their dollars to heat-seeking producers with an aptitude for cultivating original talents. In an unquantifiable business, backing talent is the best bet, provided you know where to look.
Easier said than done, of course. We all know that gifted storytellers and charismatic performers are a precious commodity - and so is the talent for identifying and nurturing this creative lifeblood. Such scarcity is a big reason why Screen International has once again devoted itself to unearthing the next Stars of Tomorrow.
As those breakthroughs we have spotlighted in the past four years demonstrate, industry success so often hinges on new voices and fresh faces.
But such raw ability needs to be championed first. One of the sobering revelations to come out of this year's inspirational Screenwriters' Festival is just how conservative the film world is in terms of working with newcomers.
A report, presented at the festival by the UK Film Council, showed that few writers in Britain are given work on the basis of a pitch alone. Most secure jobs as a result of previous working or personal relationships with their commissioners - a tendency that limits diversity in British cinema.
This is not a uniquely British problem. Research has shown how Hollywood studios tend also to give preference to their known producers, giving them larger budgets, greater promotional support and favourable release dates.
There is little budding talents can do to counter such prejudice other than to accept the reality, make the effort to find industry mentors and immerse themselves in the business side of their art. As Oscar-nominated Bill Nicholson advised at last year's Screenwriters' Festival: make friends with the money.
For those that do get noticed, the rewards can be stupendous - for both them and the smart money that craves their abilities.