One of the more interesting means of assessing the health of an industry is to monitor the buzzwords. It is often far more informative than the tedious Powerpoint presentation in which such little gems are hidden. The right time to catch a piece of business terminology is when it retains a degree of currency before its inevitable slip into cliche. The word that is increasingly peppering speeches and analysis at the moment is 'transparency'. Now, it has a fine pedigree. Much of the rest of the world was talking about transparency after the scandals of Enron and WorldCom. Suddenly ethical business was back in fashion - and that meant offering a sound and informed basis on which investment decisions could be made.
At heart the idea is that given all available facts, anyone should be able to make at least coherent decisions on where they put their money. The fear for the film industry has traditionally been that honesty and openness are either not possible, or would bring the whole house of cards crashing down. Hence the attraction of tax loopholes; it does not matter that an innumerate blind man with a broken abacus could tell you the numbers do not add up when the investor does not give a damn about anything other than the tax shelter. Who was interested in transparency when even the studios were drawing 20%-30% of their budgets from the softest of soft money in German media funds and UK sale and leaseback'
When that avenue was closed an interesting thing happened: the studios were not able to find anything close to the level of finance they enjoyed from the collapsed tax regimes from other public money sources. Going to their conglomerate owners with their fancy new media obsessions and asking to be bailed out was never an option.
But as Ryan Kavanaugh, chief executive of Relativity Media, explains (see page 6), the need for big money drove the studios to Wall Street at a time when Wall Street was struggling to know what to do with record amounts of private equity. The deal they struck kick-started the transparency vogue. The challenge to open the windows and let the investors see the real position for film generated surprising results.
Of course, there is no exact science here. It would have been fun to have been at the pitch for the current number one movie 300 - it is an adult CGI comic book with an unknown cast, based on a classical Greek legend and it is going make you a bundle. Yeah, right.
But including that with a range of other less risky films is a different proposition altogether. The idea that allowing investors to see the cogs whirring in a transparent business is a good thing certainly would have looked naive a couple of years ago.
But those doubts keep getting undermined. Having had to accept that slate financing could work, the argument was then that the first wave of institutional investment would only work for studios. Except when there was no studio fare left to soak up the capital, attention turned to the bigger indies - and it still seemed to work.
So the assumption that a similar approach cannot work in international markets is becoming more difficult to justify. All that anyone knows at the moment is that the tax loophole money is closing as an option for independents just as much as it is did for the studios. A simple replacement in public funding looks highly unlikely and even good local tax incentives are up against comparable alternatives elsewhere.
Trying to be transparent - realistic budgets, tracking marketing spend, splitting revenues etc - is a worthwhile exercise in itself, even if you are not having to beat off hedge funds with a stick.
Every now and again a buzzword muscles its way into the language because it makes sense. Out of the mouths of babes and analysts ...