In 2007, the Cannes Film festival had a record number of bankers attending the famous festival. Everybody was schmoozing everybody. I have to admit, my business partner and I were caught up in the movie mania, too.
But while most hedge fund managers and investment bankers were talking to the Harvey Weinsteins, Ryan Kavanaughs, Steven Spielbergs, and Angelina Jolies of the Hollywood scene, we were talking to a less glamorous crowd: independent film distributors, boutique financing firms, accountants for Hollywood and indie films, theater owners, and data freaks with a passion for numbers.
So, it looked to me that Hollywood could finance an asset (movie), by selling “options” (pre-sales), in a very specialized, over-the-counter market. That meant that the risk of a movie (like Lara Croft’s Tombraider) being a box-office disappointment was passed to third parties, in exchange for those guys getting the distribution rights in their respective territories.
My analysis also showed that the pricing mechanism was very inefficient, because it was not based on any analytical techniques, but on subjective opinions about the ‘hot’ stars, genres & directors of the moment. As an additional hurdle, Hollywood was subject to the capital constraints of their parent corporations, which are exposed to risks larger and diverse than those faced by their Hollywood branches.
The Google search “How to get in shape under a rational approach” that I did almost 3 years ago brought back disappointing results. I remember exactly when and where I was when I typed that search: September 15, 2008, on the trading floor at Lehman Brothers, my former employer. The bank had collapsed, and financial markets all over the world were in turmoil. I remember exactly what I was doing: I had returned to my desk after a meeting with Jami Miscik, the former CIA Intelligence Chief during the George W. Bush administration.
Jami and her team had completed an extremely good research report which I had requested a couple of weeks earlier. I wanted to thank her personally, and as it turned out, this was the first time that fit both our schedules.