Helping Hollywood Players Hook Up

By Claire Martin, The New York Times

The characters in an independent movie scheduled to begin filming this fall include a werewolf, a member of the band the Strokes and a cannibalistic yoga instructor. The plot? "It's kind of a modern-day 'Trainspotting' set within a New York indie-rock backdrop," says Noah C. Haeussner, the film's producer and a senior vice president for financing and production at Union Entertainment Group.

The movie has a director with promise and cachet in Jake Hoffman, son of Dustin Hoffman. But still, when Mr. Haeussner set about looking for financial backing, he knew it would be tricky given the heroin use and other eccentricities in the film. "The doctor or dentist down the street who has $500,000 wasn't going to invest in a project as unique as this one," he says.

So instead of trotting it out to individual investors, the route independent filmmakers have taken for decades, he turned to a New York-based company called Slated that connects filmmakers and potential financiers on its Web site.

Slated is a free, members-only service that allows directors, producers, actors, sales agents and investors to communicate once they have been approved for membership and have created online profiles. It is "maybe like OKCupid," Mr. Haeussner says, referring to the popular online dating site.

Members — there are 4,000 — describe their moviemaking or investing backgrounds, specify what types of movies they are interested in and indicate how much they are willing to invest. Filmmakers can also put up trailers for movies they want to finance, and everyone can send messages to one another privately.

The platform differs from crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo — which the filmmakers Zach Braff, James Franco and Spike Lee, and the creator of the "Veronica Mars" television show, Rob Thomas, recently used to solicit donations for film projects — in that it simply introduces filmmakers and equity investors.

Slated was founded in 2010 by Stephan Paternot, an American Internet entrepreneur and film producer; Duncan Cork, a South African creative consultant; and two other partners. As Mr. Paternot put it, they realized separately that "there's a fundamental structural problem with how films are financed."

The early backers of a movie assume a great deal of risk, often paying to option a book, for instance, and develop the script. But they can be the last to see a return, even if the movie is a hit. "A lot of the value gets lost with the theater owners, the distributor, the sales agent," Mr. Paternot says. "They all make a cut, they all get everything first."

Changing the inner workings of the industry is one of Mr. Paternot's and Mr. Cork's missions, though they acknowledged it would not occur soon. For now, their focus is on streamlining the financing process.

Each film project listed on Slated is packaged for investors. It must have a director, a producer, a writer and principal cast to be considered. The budget requirements for a feature film are $500,000 to $15 million; for a documentary, $250,000 to $2 million. Slated restricts its membership to investors who meet the Securities and Exchange Commission requirements for accreditation — a net worth of $1 million or annual income of at least $200,000 for an individual and $300,000 for a household for the last two years.

The filmmakers and financiers negotiate the terms of the deals on their own, without Slated's involvement. Since the company's introduction in January 2012, nine films listed on the site have received financing. According to Mr. Cork and Mr. Paternot, investors in recent projects have committed amounts from $25,000 to several million dollars.

Eventually, Slated will begin charging transaction fees, much the way Kickstarter does.

To generate revenue in the meantime, it introduced an optional subscription service in July called First Look. For $500 a month or $5,000 a year, investors can peruse listings of what Mr. Cork and Mr. Paternot identify as more elite film projects, such as prominent documentaries and feature films with commitments from sought-after directors and actors. Their hope is that financing production companies will use First Look much as they now rely on development teams to sort through scripts in search of the most desirable projects.

Since its founding, Slated has raised about $4 million from its own investors. They include the entrepreneur Barry Silbert, founder of SecondMarket, an investment platform for private companies and funds.

Partners like Tribeca Film Institute contribute to Slated's roster of films by recommending promising projects. Beth Janson, Tribeca's executive director, says Slated's strong investment bent is unusual. "The idea that investors are looking at the financials of a project is interesting," she says. "They're trying to present projects as a viable investment."

In September, the S.E.C. will lift a ban that prevented businesses of all kinds from publicizing their fund-raising efforts — a change that could have a significant impact on hedge funds and venture capitalists as well as the film industry. Filmmakers who comply with a new set of regulations will be able to advertise online, in newspapers, and on radio, television and billboards. "You could take out an ad on Sunset Boulevard saying, 'Fund My Movie,' " Mr. Cork says, adding that Slated planned to help its members navigate the new rules.

ONE of Slated's most appealing assets is access, something even established filmmakers seek. "You're rarely in a room with investors," says Marina Zenovich, who won two Emmys for her 2008 documentary "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" and turned to Slated in 2012 to finish financing her sequel, "Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out."

"Slated is almost like being at a cocktail party with a bunch of investors, and, if they're interested, they reach out to you," she says. She raised about $100,000 through Slated for her movie, money her backers will recoup with a premium by October. The film will appear on Showtime, starting in late September.

Slated also hopes to refresh the pool of financiers available to filmmakers. "Everyone's going after the same old investors who might be getting tired of investing if they're not making money," Ms. Zenovich says. By some accounts, Slated is already attracting new money. Mr. Haeussner says he has been contacted by potential financiers in London, Pakistan and India.

Of course, investing in movies remains fraught with risk. "This is one of the few industries where you make a full investment before you even know the product is marketable," says Jason E. Squire, a professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and editor of "The Movie Business Book." And the industry has had its share of fraudulent financiers over the years, creating mistrust among filmmakers.

The partners still hope to confront those structural issues. For now, Slated is trying to mitigate early-stage financial risk by doing such things as standardizing legal contracts, to help reduce transaction costs and make it easier to finance projects.

Another goal is to help educate both sides. For potential investors, it is a matter of addressing such questions as how to assess the relevance of a film, or how to determine the likelihood of a financial return. For filmmakers, it means teaching them the language of finance and how to present projects as more than just creative ventures.

As Mr. Paternot put it, "Professional investors are like, 'I just want to make money.' "