Frans Afman (1933-2011)
The banker who changed Cannes and revolutionized indie film.
The entire foundation of the independent film industry was built on the back of a single financing device: banking "presales," which were pioneered 36 years ago by Frans Afman, an innovative banker who headed the entertainment division at Credit Lyonnais and died May 4 at age 77.
It started with the financing of 1976's King Kong for Dino De Laurentiis, after Frans and Dino came up with the crazy scheme of getting foreign distributors to commit to buy rights to a film before it was made, through "presale contracts." Credit Lyonnais would lend against those contracts to produce the film, as long as there was a completion guarantee assuring that the movie would be finished.
From this humble beginning sprang the leading independent film companies of the 1980s: Carolco Pictures, Cannon, Dino De Laurentiis Group, Castle Rock, Imagine Films, Merchant Ivory Productions, Neue Constantin, Morgan Creek and many others. All of them were financed by Frans.
Frans financed more films than some people see in a lifetime, from blockbusters (the Terminator and Rambo films, Superman II and III) to comedies (When Harry Met Sally …) to Oscar-winning dramas (Driving Miss Daisy, Dances With Wolves). The list could go on for pages.
It is fair to say that Frans had more of an impact on the independent film industry than any other individual. He was a banker extraordinaire. But to me, Frans was more than that: He was a client, friend, father figure and mentor, and I was his junior partner in a consulting business (Afman Moore) in the early 1990s. So I speak from experience in saying that Frans was a gentleman and a scholar -- kind, smart, honest to a fault. He always had a kind word, a ready smile and a funny story. He knew where all the bodies were buried in Hollywood, and he was clever enough to deal with sharks.
Everyone knew and loved him, and he knew everyone by name. He was everywhere. Frans couldn't walk 10 feet down the Croisette in Cannes without being stopped by friends. He was constantly being pestered with the latest financial wizardry, and he could assess a complex proposal in minutes. His jaded view of pie-in-the-sky financial projections came from years of experience; he laughed at the notion that Monte Carlo math wielded by New York hedge fund managers could eliminate the risk of film financing.
His sense of concern for others made him as punctilious as an atomic clock. You could always count on him to be somewhere exactly when he said he would be there. When a lunch date would show up the obligatory 15 minutes late, always blaming it on traffic, Frans would wink at me and say: "Traffic?! What a surprise! Who knew there was traffic?"
The only aspersion ever cast his way was the false rumor that he was involved in the debacle of the financing by Credit Lyonnais of Giancarlo Parretti's ill-fated takeover of Cannon and ultimately MGM in 1990. That transaction was tainted by allegations of kickbacks, but the truth is that from Day 1, Frans was vociferous in his objection to Credit Lyonnais dealing with Parretti. He recused himself from the deal and had nothing to do with it. How do I know? Because I was fired by Parretti as outside counsel for Cannon when he bought it because I had insulted him by walking out of a meeting after saying, "You have no idea what you're doing," and I represented Credit Lyonnais on the MGM acquisition. So I was in the thick of it, and Credit Lyonnais was being directed from its Paris headquarters, not by Frans. He was as honorable as they come and would never stoop to Parretti's level.
Frans passed after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer, during which he was heroic and gracious. This form of cancer is excruciatingly painful, and he conceded as much ("Ya, ya, it is not fun") and had to take morphine much of the time. But he accepted the situation with equanimity, went to Curacao for an extended vacation and enjoyed his remaining time with his family. We talked weekly, and as always he reminisced, told war stories and laughed. I only hope I have a fraction of his courage when my time comes.
In his final days, he asked if I would write his eulogy. He wanted the industry to have a few last words to remember him by. He wanted people to know -- as I do -- that he was proud of his accomplishments, that it was a "labor of love" and that he did it with honor and dignity. Yes, Frans, you were that and much more. You are a fallen hero, and we will miss you dearly.
Schuyler Moore is an entertainment finance attorney with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in Los Angeles.