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By Hammad Zaidi | February 26, 2013

Hey, filmmakers. I hope all of you had an opulent Oscar week filled with unexpected treasures. My “treasure” last week consisted of getting invited to the memorial service for the recently deceased Lakers owner, Dr. Jerry Buss. As a lifelong Lakers fan and longtime season ticket holder, I was quite thankful for having the opportunity to share the experience with other members of the Lakers family.

While you may be expecting me to jump into my annual, post-Oscar article, that topic is reserved for next week. Today’s article shines a light on Phil Gorn of “Wonderphil Productions,” which is an international film distribution company based in Los Angeles and San Francisco. So, why Wonderphil?” Let me give you five unshakable reasons:

  1. He’s ethical.
  2. He’s ethical.
  3. He’s ethical.
  4. He’s ethical.
  5. He’s ethical.

Should those reasons not be enough to lasso your interest, then how about this one: Phil Gorn has crafted a virtually failsafe strategy where he can secure financing for indie features, via presales, with almost no risk for the film’s investors. Thus, today we’re going to examine how “Wonderphil” aka Phil Gorn, takes a project from script to screen.

Before we get started, let me just state that Phil Gorn is a trusted friend and respected colleague. I’ve known him for years, and we’ve traveled to several film sales markets around the globe together, including at Cannes every May, October and April, Berlin a few weeks ago, and Hong Kong a few weeks from now. Thus, during my time of knowing Phil, I have always known him to be honest, intelligent, and relentlessly dedicated to his clients.

The “Wonderphil” Interview Set-Up
I interviewed Phil Gorn for this article over a casual dinner at a slightly-better-than-average Indian restaurant on our last night at the European Film Market (EFM) in Berlin a few weeks ago. In the spirit of keeping things casual, I didn’t break out my recorder to capture every quote. Instead, I allowed Phil to lie out his strategy, bullet point by bullet point, while I just listened. Thus, I‘m going to reveal his responses the same way; bullet point by bullet point.

Phil’s First Step To Finding Projects to Finance
The three times Phil Gorn has successfully financed an independent feature through international presales (he’s three for three and counting), the project was borne a filmmaker that he previously represented on another film. That’s right; how you interact with your distributor directly affects future opportunities you may receive from them, or other distributors they know (and everybody knows everybody in the world of international distribution). So, try not to play the role of “angry, misunderstood artist,” whose blames his or her distributor for every single shortcoming their film may have, because the distributor you love to hate, could hold the keys to getting your next picture funded.

After having a successful and harmonious working relationship with a given filmmaker, Phil Gorn asks the talented visionary and storyteller about their upcoming projects, to see if there is a mutual interest to produce a film together. If a synergy arises, a celluloid dream is born.

Posters and Trailers: Step Two
Once Phil and the filmmaker identify a viable project to collaborate on (by “viable” I mean either a sci-fi or epic action picture – Phil loves epic action pictures), then a well-made poster and a quick-paced trailer are crafted in order to captivate interest from motion picture buyers worldwide.

Hooking Key Buyers at Key Markets: Step Three
Phil gives worldwide buyers “sneak-peeks” at the film’s poster and trailer. Interested buyers begin asking questions about the picture’s cast, budget and expected delivery date.

Fielding Presale Offers from Buyers: Step Four
Once interested buyers give Phil their “presale offer price,” for acquiring the film for their home country, he negotiates how much of the presale amount can be used for production costs, and how much of it is due upon final delivery of the film. The rule of thumb is that if any part of the presale is utilized for production costs, it’s usually no more than 10%-20% of the presale amount. Meaning, buyers won’t pay more than 10%-20% of the presale price, before a) the film is finished and b) it passes all quality control standards.

Entice Investors to Fund Based on Presales: Step Five
Since most presales deals these days will pay little up front, if the more likely scenario is Phil taking his presales to investors, to entice them to invest in the film based on the fact the presales money will kick in once the picture is complete. This tactic usually works handsomely, because the film’s investors know exactly how much money is contracted to return on their investment, even before the film gets made.

Hold Market Screenings: Step Six
Market screenings are where film buyers lend their eyes to a given film for a few minutes, to see if they want to buy it or not. Yes, I said they put their eyes on the film for “a few minutes,” not a few hours. Simply put, buyers will know if they want any given picture within 10 minutes of watching it. This is where Phil Gorn sells the hell out of the project to the territories that did not acquire the film at the presale stage.

Don’t Try This at Home!
While I’ve oversimplified Phil Gorn’s six steps listed above, I’ve done so for “informational purpose only. In other words, “don’t try this at home,” because it’s quite a bit harder than it seems.

These tactics only create funding when a) the film’s genre is sellable and b) the sales team is incredibly seasoned, with deep relationships to film buyers. Thus, trying to “cut out the middleman and do it yourself,” won’t work in this case, , the “middleman” is the man with the contacts, relationships and reputation needed to execute this process.

Wonderphil’s Current Project Financed in This Manner
I mentioned Phil Gorn was “three for three” when it comes to taking films through the six-step process discussed today. Thus, here are some stats of his most recent conquer.

Title: Richard The Lionheart (2013)
Budget: $3,000,000 USD
Actors: Malcolm McDowell
Completion Date: March 2013.
Genre: One hell of a cool epic dramatic action picture.

* Wonderphil Productions can be contacted at


Okay filmmakers. That’s what I have for you today. I thank you once again for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next week! Until then, “peace out!” By the way, if you expect to have long droughts of boredom anytime soon, I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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