In an industry characterised by glitzy premiers and celebrities, film financier Rae Parsons has had her fair share of brushes with fame having met Matt Damon, shaken hands with Jude Law, and waved at Gwyneth Paltrow on the red carpet, and wistfully recalls two of the latest biggest blockbusters as “the ones that got away”.
A Hawkes’ Bay girl, Rae had no specific career aspirations at school but was strongly encouraged by her mother and step-father to pursue nursing upon completing high school. Gifted academically and with a strong work ethic, Rae quickly rose through the ranks to Charge Nurse at Hastings Memorial Hospital. However, after 10 years she felt that it was time to change direction particularly as she didn’t want to pursue further roles in management.
Deciding that she wanted to study further, Rae took a year of arts and science courses at Auckland University, the grades from which enabled her to enter law school. As an older student, Rae found the transition from working to studying challenging, but bonded with other students “in the same boat” and found their help and support invaluable. Holding down three jobs on the side to support her study, Rae was determined to finish the course, despite its competitive aspects sometimes being at odds with her more caring personality and nature.
Upon leaving University in 1992, Rae secured her first role at B Philip Fox where as part of the graduate programme she gained exposure to different areas of law. Rae found she enjoyed and had a natural affinity for banking, which encompassed a large amount of commercial and corporate law. After a period of travel overseas, Rae also worked for Russell McVeagh and Buddle Findlay in their banking/finance legal teams.
After her long-term relationship came to an end, Rae made the decision to relocate to London, and describes it as “the best move she ever made” both personally and professionally. It was here that Rae was introduced to her current partner through mutual friends, and also landed senior legal roles at Linklaters London and Tokyo, where she refined her skills as a structured finance lawyer. Whilst in Tokyo, Rae moved to head up some of Lehman’s legal teams in Asia, before relocating back to London with her partner in 2006.
Upon Lehman’s insolvency Rae took the opportunity to gain consulting exposure by advising corporates, private equity firms and the Lehman US administrators. During this period, Rae also sought career inspiration and direction, and with the support of friends identified a gap in the market to aid independent film producers to raise finance, as studios have other sources available to them. Out of this was born Xantara Film Capital, a partnership which Rae formed with two friends whose film, media, corporate and project finance backgrounds were complementary to her own.
Although Rae could easily explain risk to funds and high net worth investors she knew practically nothing about film, so spent time initially researching, attending conferences and events and gaining introductions with producers to understand how the industry worked. News of their venture also spread quickly, and Xantara were soon approached by independent producers for investor introductions and assistance with pitches. However, Rae admits it was often difficult to wade through proposals to find the “right projects” with “good cast, scripts and structure”, or to source financing for non-studio based bigger projects such as “Hacksaw Ridge” and “The Revenant” that might require funding in a short time frame i.e. 2-3 weeks.
After four years and due to changes in the film market, Rae and her partners actively moved into the technological side of the entertainment industry and permanent and touring exhibitions. Despite being a different asset class, Rae found many of the same skill sets were still required i.e. project management, sourcing, and legal counsel, although it allowed her to gain more exposure to the commercial aspects of the industry such as merchandising and retail.
So far Rae’s favourite project has involved advising on a destination cinema in Siem Riep, which allows visitors to walk through a 360 degree screen to explore the site, and is similar to one located in the Grand Canyon in America. She is also assisting to find space in London for a major exhibition and utilise a VR/augmented reality to design an immersive and more entertaining music memorabilia exhibition experience.
Although Rae feels that she “stumbled into the industry”, she has loved the transition from employee to business owner and would happily do it all again. However, she concedes that you do work a lot harder and that there is a lot of financial uncertainty, so a plan or direction is vital as well as sufficient capital to support yourself as it can take 3-4 years before a business returns a profit. She also believes it is quite important to believe in yourself and your business in the early years, but also to be realistic and decide when to cut any losses if things aren’t going to plan over the long term.