Book Review: Bankroll

As I get into making my movie, I hope to provide some reviews of how-to books I’ve read and will be reading. -ES

Having seen this book at a bookstore in Chicago (where I traveled to this past August), I had high hopes for this book. I flipped through the pages and thought it might be a worthwhile read. I figured that even if it wouldn’t helpful to me now, that it may be useful to me down the line.

Author Tom Malloy is clearly passionate about what he does and the movies he makes. I also realize that there are readers that are genuinely interested in making the type of movie Malloy makes. If you want to make a straightforward genre film without the bureaucracy of studio system, this book may be for you. But I’m interested in making specialty films, which have similar size budgets to Malloy’s, but are riskier ventures. At face value, this book is Film Producing 201 to Dov Simens’ From Reel to Deal 101. I have my problems with that book as well (I don’t think it lines up with the current realities of independent filmmaking). The subtitle of this book is “A new approach to financing feature films”, but using private equity to raise money for movies has been around for awhile now. That said, Malloy does a fairly good job of demystifying private equity, and I even picked up a few ideas on places where I could find money that I hadn’t considered previously. At the end of the book, Malloy makes recommendations for further reading. I appreciated that as well, even if I had already read a few of them. As I got further into the book, I began to run into parts where I seriously disagreed with him. Clearly, Malloy doesn’t have experience in making specialty films, and if you read his book, you’ll realize he really doesn’t have much interest in making them, either.

To show you what kind of producer Malloy is, read this passage:

I had an actress friend who was a TV comedy star. When I told her I was looking for attachments for an indie drama, she asked me to consider her. I think she got insulted when I told her it would be a tough sell. She said to a mutual friend, ‘What? He doesn’t think I’m famous enough?’ The fact is, any fame she had from the comedy world would actually hinder my little indie drama.

When I read this, I thought of Wyatt Cenac in Medicine For Melancholy. Cenac is a comedian by trade—director Barry Jenkins knew that when he cast him—and Medicine is a straightforward drama. Between the time the film made its debut at South By Southwest in 2008, and its release at the end of January this year, Cenac got hired by The Daily Show. My point is, some of us don’t mind taking chances. “Medicine for Melancholy” director Barry Jenkins took a chance, and it may have paid off. Opening weekend, Medicine For Melancholy made $12,625—on one screen. While I’m really speculating here, his casting probably attracted people who otherwise would never have heard of the movie. Medicine may have had a smaller budget than Malloy’s features, but the point is, nobody knows anything. At another point, Malloy dismisses VOD, saying there’s no money in it, which I found irritating. (I couldn’t relocate the passage; this is where an index—nonexistent in this book—might have been helpful.) VOD has provided many young, up-and-coming filmmakers, VOD can be an opportunity to reach out to an audience who otherwise might not have heard of it.

When I was first seriously entertaining the idea of stepping into the production end of filmmaking six years ago (I had previously aspired to be a screenwriter), I read Christine Vachon’s Shooting to Kill. In that book, Vachon and film critic David Edelstein discussed a variety of approaches when it came to financing her films. Unfortunately, it’s been several years since that I read that book, so my memory is fuzzy, but I would still recommend it as a starting point for those interested in making larger budget specialty films. My problem with Malloy is that he provides a very narrow point of view of mid-level budget films, and my professional goals as a filmmaker don’t dovetail with his.

Neophytes who want to make a genre movie might find Malloy’s advice genuinely useful. Those whose goals are a little more specialty minded, however, might find themselves seriously questioning or disagreeing with Malloy’s book.

Take it with a grain of salt.

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