Storm Surfers 3D: the financing plan
[Tue 25/09/2012 04:30:18]
By Sandy George
This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #148 (Aug-Sept 2012). Since Storm Surfers 3D was released on August 14, it has become the eighth highest grossing local feature documentary of all time.
The tight-knit group behind Storm Surfers saw the production of a 3D feature film as a necessary step in their quest to create a truly international brand and they paid for it, in part, by leveraging the interest of 3D television channel operators.
“The benefit of using television pre-sales to finance the feature and other properties is that it is non-recoupable finance and the producer ends up with a bigger equity position,” said Marcus Gillezeau, who produced the latest chapter in the Storm Surfers franchise with life and business partner Ellenor Cox.
"Television pre-sales are licenses, so they don't take an equity position in the finance package whereas theatrical distributors or sales agents provide a minimum guarantee (MG) which is recouped in first position. This means they recoup the MG before sharing in any revenue.
“There is also more ability to limit the scope of the rights [financing the film] this way. We trademarked Storm Surfers globally and told partners the licensing and merchandising rights were available, but that they were a separate set of rights.
Gillezeau and Cox are known for their interest in multi-platform producing and won an International Digital Emmy in the best fiction category for telemovie Scorched in early-2009.
On Storm Surfers 3D, they worked with directors Chris Nelius and Justin McMillan to simultaneously produce a feature, which was released by Madman on August 14, a traditional television series, two series for the internet and other uses, an ebook and an interactive application with a gaming flavour.
The stars of the show are 40-something surf-mad mates, tow-surfing veteran Ross Clarke-Jones and two-time world surfing champion Tom Carroll, and forecaster and meteorologist Ben Matson who tracked the storms that delivered the death-defying surfing pair some of the biggest and most dangerous waves on the planet, albeit up to two weeks later than the storms and thousands of kilometres away.
Lender Fulcrum Media Finance was the first on board, signifying that the Producer Offset was the first piece of finance on the table. Post-production and services company Deluxe followed as an investor.
Gillezeau took the property – and others – to MIPTV in October 2010. Before the channel had even launched, he had won over 3net, the US 3D television joint venture between Discovery, Sony and IMAX, although the fledgling player wanted four 50-minute films for a seven-figure sum rather than the movie pitched. A deal with Sky3D in the UK soon followed.
“In both cases they allowed for a theatrical release in their territories which was critical,” Gillezeau told IF Magazine. “The project had great characters, amazing adventure, big waves and 3D: it was a pretty simple elevator pitch.”
Subsequently Servus TV got on board with a presale and Red Bull Media House as an investor. The satellite channel, owned by energy drink company Red Bull, is seen in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Red Bull, through its fan club, brought the promise of social media grunt, as has a range of sponsors that have since joined the project.
Screen NSW has provided development and production support for Storm Surfers since Gillezeau and Cox boarded what was an existing franchise in 2007. But, according to Gillezeau, this was only after they accepted that surfing was a cultural phenomenon, not just a sport. His positioning of the project is that it’s a character-driven adventure about surf explorers.
With some of the partners being very big multinationals, having a government agency on board from the outset was invaluable in terms of helping the team hold its line that the Producer Offset, as the name implies, is indeed the producer’s equity.
Storm Surfers 3D also had investment from Screen Australia – Gillezeau said the federal agency approached him – and funding from the NSW Government’s Digital Media Initiative, which led to digital company Explore Engage being involved.
Gillezeau won’t reveal the actual budget but said it was relatively big by documentary standards: “Storm Surfers was a very expensive show to make. We're shooting out at sea, often in the middle of storms.”
A mother ship, a camera boat, one (sometimes two) helicopters, one (sometimes two) light planes, up to six jet skis, and 25 crew were needed for most of the eight surfing missions undertaken over four months and involving 17,000 kilometres of travel. In one case all the action happened 75 kilometres out to sea. The research and development costs of filming in 3D in the open ocean was “insane” and the team ended up capturing 130 million frames of film on HD.
It is not possible for Gillezeau to separate out the cost of each property because he has put into practice what he has long advocated: that the only way to create a genuine all-media package is to produce all aspects at the same time. With the feature being the primary property, there was also an advantage to this in terms of claiming the Producer Offset.
Undoubtedly, the Storm Surfers team are cleverly riding not just the waves in the Great Southern Ocean but also the waves of change in technology, media and entertainment. Their “tongue-in-cheek” 10 x 2-minute 3D instructional series on how to surf – and survive a wipe-out! – is a case in point: to the 3D television partners it will be interstitial material but it will also be rolled out to 3D-enabled mobile devices, offered on YouTube 3D, and made available to 3D television manufacturers for use on over-the-top (OTT) services such as Sony’s 3D Experience. There are now reportedly 70 million 3D televisions in homes across the world, with about half plugged into the internet.
“We are always aiming, with the tone and feel, to find new audiences or make the core audience hit ‘share’ so it goes viral,” says Gillezeau, adding that Ester Harding served as the “all media” producer on the project.
But the underlying motivation of all the “wraparound” production and its distribution, he emphasizes, is to expand the story world, market the feature and further bed down the franchise.
Judi Bailey, who produced The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course featuring Steve Irwin; Mike Conway, business strategist for The Wiggles; and producer Simon Nasht, have all acted as mentors, particularly in relation to the North American Market.
The Storm Surfers team are about to reluctantly abandon their offices at Deluxe, where they’ve been feeding off each other creatively and holding it all together operationally and technically since March 2011.
“Storm Surfers was an integrated and sophisticated project with 3D lobbed on the top and it was extremely demanding,” said Gillezeau. “It would have been possible to make across many buildings but it would have taken five years and compromised the quality… Having everyone in the same building and being able to literally move from room to room is how a transmedia project can and should be made efficiently. It was awesome.”
Storm Surfers 3D was produced by 6ixty Foot Films – owned by the producers, directors and three key actors – in association with Gillezeau and Cox’s production company Firelight Productions. Firelight invested in the project over and above the Producer Offset.
An animated feature and an animated series for children are now in planning.
Tom Carroll, left, and Ross Clarke-Jones.
[Tue 25/09/2012 04:30:18]