Don't worry,' a reassuring senior financier mentioned this time last year, 'the thing with film is that there will always be another sucker at the table.' The hedge funds might dry up and the dodgy tax loopholes close but in true Micawber fashion, he remained confident that 'something would turn up'.
One hope was that somewhere in the emerging super-rich states, money would be found. And indeed, there has been new finance over the last year, particularly from India. But this money is not in the form of naive speculation, but as investment that is beginning to shift film's centre of gravity eastwards.
One of the financier's colleagues was in Rotterdam this week and mentioned that our Micawber-like expert had left his job as a result of cutbacks a few weeks ago. There may not be a stampede for the door just yet but highly regarded and experienced financial and legal expertise has been departing quietly. Just last week London-based SJ Berwin announced it was shutting its media division, which specialises in media asset finance work (see news digest, p5).
Those leaving can be fairly confident they will not be crushed by an army of 'suckers' coming the other way. In fact, we now have a planet full of people who have been given a lesson in questioning the value of investments and credit.
That fact may, of course, have a damaging effect on individual projects, which are finding the usual cupboards bare. But in the long term, it would be no bad thing if attention is switched away from a vague hope that some new flow of unquestioning riches will arrive. It is time to accept that people want more than dreams if they are going to invest in the dream factories of film. And isn't it just typical that cinema provided them with a catchphrase, 'show me the money''
A daily newspaper reporter, having observed the recent job cuts at the studios and the exit of some financiers, asked Screen this week if there was a 'giant hole' in film finance. The answer is that it's less a hole than the erosion of a system that has worked very nicely for decades. The infrastructure of who makes films, how they are sold and where they are shown has been crumbling away for some time. The financial crisis is accelerating the process.
If film was merely waiting for the next sucker, then we would indeed be in big trouble. But the smartest brains in the business realised the need for change some time ago. And there has been a noteable shift in many people's thinking in recent times.
The importance of reaching audiences has been recognised and there are clear ideas being developed as to how that can be achieved. How far the change has progressed depends on where one fits in the industry. The studios are certainly having to deal with a bigger reality check because they are part of conglomerates fighting on many fronts.
The end of the hedge-fund boom without the taxpayer subsidies to ease the pain has forced them to reassess the business and work on new global business models. It will be interesting to see a follow-up to the oft-quoted 2007 study from Screen Digest's Global Media Intelligence, which suggested Hollywood just wasn't making profits.
The language one hears now from senior studio executives at least recognises that the economic realities of a global market necessitate change. Complacency and denial may still exist but it's rare it has a public airing.
For the independents, sugar daddies have always been thin on the ground and the generosity of government has been critical, particularly outside the US. But it's now only reasonable to expect a tightening of subsidy priorities if the economy doesn't pick up.
In some ways, the need for accepting change is harder for the European indies for whom a rich cinematic history can be something of an albatross. It is still rare, even at Rotterdam, for the belief in a piece of work to be matched by a passion to see the projects distributed and reach paying customers. That approach will be challenged by both the economy and a rising generation of new film-makers with different viewpoints.
It's a challenge that isn't going away for the simple reason the world is fast running out of 'suckers', but by taking its future in its own hands it's a challenge the industry must meet.