Arab filmmakers hoping to unlock the vast reservoir of regional money need to equip themselves with proper business plans that explain their projects’ audience appeal and how financiers should hope to make their money back.

Julien Khabbaz

That was the key message to emerge from a Dubai Film Market Forum session yesterday in which several film financiers offered advice to those looking beyond just grants and subsidies.

“Your projects have to be appealing as stories and also easy to understand as financing plans. Investors are willing to accept risk as long as they see the potential for upside,” explained Julien Khabbaz [pictured], head of investment banking at FFA Private Bank. “The process involved in going through all that will make your movies better.”

Khabbaz, who handles a network of more than 100 clients whose portfolios cross over into film, says his is the only bank in the region with any cinema involvement.

Stoking investor appetite in local movies remains a challenge, however; Khabbaz says investors look mostly at Hollywood and perhaps Europe.

Even in Hollywood, raising pools of money for film can be a hustle says Michael Bassick, president and COO at Vendian Entertainment, the financing outfit behind Black Mass and Oliver Stone’s upcoming Edward Snowden biopic.

“You have to remember that investors are often taking out of one pocket and putting into another,” said Bassick. “I think there is a valid business proposition to be made about film as a viable investment. But you need to make that compelling case and also identify the proper candidates to approach: you need a certain wealth factor to be able to invest in any alternative investment class, let alone movies.”

When it comes to deciding projects should be the beneficiary of that money, Bassick acknowledges that it becomes a “math exercise: I will probably evaluate the financing plan for a movie project before I read the script. It is hard to fall in love with an idea and not have it work out… we all have to ask ourselves why does this story need to be told. It might have an important social message, but who is the audience for it.”