BondIt Co-Founders Believe Funding Can Be as Creative as Storytelling
It is often said that the secret to becoming a successful entrepreneur is finding a need and filling it. When Santa Monica-based BondIt Media Capital launched in 2013, it zeroed in on the deposits productions must leave with SAG-AFTRA, DGA, IATSE and other guilds to ensure that their members get paid in a timely fashion.
The company co-founders — CEO Matthew Helderman and COO Luke Taylor — knew from their experience working in the production trenches that these deposits, which sometimes take up to six months to be returned, can create a significant cash flow problem for low-budget projects during principal photography.
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So they decided to offer a deal: producers would pay the unions, then BondIt would reimburse their cash outlay, minus a fee (typically 12%-15%), and collect the deposits when they were returned.
It wasn’t exciting, it wasn’t big-time, but it was a foot in the door.
“No other financiers cared about it as a serious endeavor,” says Helderman. “It’s just too small.”
Ten years later, BondIt has grown significantly, having directly invested more than $275 million across upwards of 400 film and television productions and 50 corporate media transactions encompassing unscripted TV, live music, professional sports, podcasts and digital content.
Along the way, BondIt’s projects have earned awards at major festivals (e.g., a Grand Special Prize at the Deauville fest for 2016’s “Little Men”), an Oscar nomination (best animated feature for 2017’s “Loving Vincent”) and an Emmy (2021’s “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street”).
With “Little Men,” BondIt took a big step forward in terms of both risk and reward. The film is co-writer/director Ira Sachs’ coming-of-age drama about a 13-year-old New York City transplant (Theo Taplitz), who strikes up a friendship with a fellow teen (Michael Barbieri) living in the dress shop below his Brooklyn apartment.
The project came to BondIt through WME, which needed to complete the film’s financing puzzle so its producers could take advantage of co-star Greg Kinnear’s limited window of availability. The film went on to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, score a distribution deal with Magnolia Pictures and earn widespread critical praise.
“The company’s name is in the credits, the teams’ names are in the credits and we financed a good chunk of it,” says Helderman.
A few years later, “Street Gang” seemed like a safe financing bet: a documentary about a beloved, long-running children’s program packed with iconic characters that already had a distribution offer from a streaming service. But that offer fell through, and suddenly BondIt found itself in a precarious position.
“They didn’t back out. They didn’t threaten,” says Brian O’Shea of the Exchange, the film’s worldwide sales agent, who executive produced alongside Helderman, Taylor and a handful of others. “They were level-headed about allowing me to find a replacement studio and get them out of a risk position.”
“Street Gang” premiered at Sundance and went on to have a limited theatrical release before making its streaming debut on HBO Max. In October 2022, it won a News & Documentary Emmy for arts & culture documentary.
BondIt was also involved in the making of 2022’s “Clerks III.” When he was growing up, Taylor was a huge fan of Kevin Smith, so he considers it a point of pride that his company was able to play a pivotal role in the director’s second sequel to his 1994 breakthrough film.
The producers didn’t have completion guarantee insurance on the film, so BondIt stepped in to cover the production risk alongside Three Point Capital, with the pre-sale to Lionsgate and the New Jersey State Film tax credit serving as collateral.
Throughout its heady growth, BondIt has built up a healthy stable of returning customers who appreciate their willingness to move quickly and decisively.
“Sometimes, it takes up to two months to close with institutional lenders,” says Highland CEO and founding partner Arianne Fraser, who most recently worked with BondIt on the film “Blood for Dust.” “With them, I think it took three weeks.”
Helderman and Taylor first met as high school students in Connecticut through Helderman’s then-girlfriend (and now wife), who was best friends with Taylor’s sister. In the summer of 2010, between his junior and senior years at Lake Forest College, Helderman shot the low-budget comedy-drama “The Alumni Chapter” in and around Chicago, directing from his own script.
The following spring, he flew to Los Angeles and teamed with Taylor, who was working on his bachelor’s degree on the music industry at USC, and spent a week taking meetings with sales companies and distributors. Their efforts resulted in the duo founding production company Buffalo8.
Following graduation in May 2011, Helderman relocated to Los Angeles and he and Taylor began pursuing film jobs in earnest, starting as production assistants and quickly working their way up to gigs as production managers, assistant directors and line producers on low-budget films. It wasn’t long before they decided to start marketing themselves as a production services company under the Buffalo8 brand.
Tapping a family friend for capital, the duo made investments in a handful of films over the next three years. While they enjoyed some success on the festival circuit, placing three films at Sundance, one at Berlin and one at Toronto, the big game-changing breakthrough never came.
That’s when they decided to found BondIt.
“We realized we should build out a finance company to fill the void left by the commercial banks, traditional hedge funds, private equity that don’t want to get their hands dirty and spend a ton of time in entertainment,” explains Helderman.
Initially backed by three high-net-worth individuals, BondIt serviced 52 films in their first year in business. Eager to scale up and make bigger bets using the likes of distribution agreements and tax credits as collateral, they hired Patrick DePeters as CFO (succeeded by current CFO Don McGreal in 2019) and went on a roadshow, pitching potential investors, from family companies to pension funds. Eventually, they struck a deal with Toronto-based Accord Financial, which purchased a 51% stake in BondIt in July 2017.
With a healthy credit facility in place from Accord, BondIt was able to take advantage of the streaming content explosion and significantly ramp up its business. When the pandemic hit in 2020, it was able to step in for traditional institutional lenders unwilling to shoulder the risk of production shutdowns.
Inevitably, in the fast-moving world of independent finance, some films serve as reminders of the challenges and risks of the independent movie production sector. BondIt boarded the “Rust” production in New Mexico in a simple senior loan financing capacity against the project’s distribution rights, but, due to its extremely limited involvement only in the film’s financial structure, BondIt has never faced any civil or criminal charges or accusations.
“During the pandemic, [BondIt’s] business tripled in size, which turned out to be hugely beneficial to us because through that period, the rest of our business was stagnant,” says Simon Hitzig, president and CEO of Accord Financial.
Through it all, the Helderman and Taylor partnership has remained the core of BondIt’s business. “I think what actually makes us so nimble and agile is that we both have basically worn every hat you can imagine while building and running a company,” says Taylor.
(The BondIt Team, pictured above, includes, from left, Don McGreal, Grady Craig, Thomas Mann, COO Luke Taylor, CEO Matthew Helderman, Ella Wahlestedt and Tyler Gould.)
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