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You Can Be a Media Mogul for Fun and Profit

"Whether diversifying a noncorrelating alternative asset portfolio, attending film festivals, award ceremonies, red-carpet premieres and screenings, or being on set during productions," members get to "experience the passion of the entertainment industry," its Web site says.

Those who prefer live theater to the silver screen also have investment opportunities.

Like film productions, there is the high risk inherent on a project that relies on enticing an audience. As any Red Sox fan can tell you, it was Broadway-related debts that led the team to sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919.

Ken Davenport, a Broadway producer whose credits include Godspell and Will Ferrell's evening as George W. Bush, You're Welcome America, addressed the topic of producing shows on his popular theater blog. Davenport also leads regular seminars devoted to investment opportunities.

"Because Broadway capitalizations can range from $2 million for a play up to $20 million for a Broadway mega-musical, many people fear that the 'entry point,' or the amount of money required for an initial individual investment, must be astronomically high," he wrote. "Not true. While the average smaller investor in a big Broadway show is probably about $25,000, I have seen many shows where investors were able to get in for as little as $10,000, and even a few where the entry point was only $5,000. There are a lot of publicly traded mutual funds that don't allow you to get in at that level."

He explains that capitalizations are typically divided into "units," just like shares of a stock. The number of shares are determined by the producer, often guided by how many investors they see as ideal and what the cost of entry is.

Davenport's 2010 Broadway revival of Godspell included investors who ponied up as little as $1,000 to be "producers."

The risk inherent in any production -- even the marketing might of big studios, which dominate theatrical releases, can't stop a dud such as John Carter -- is why crowdfunding efforts don't offer an investment return.

The Securities Exchange Commission considers investments in a film or theatrical project as a "security," an equity share, if they are "passive" and the investor doesn't have a direct say in, or control over, day-to-day operations. As it does with similar financing efforts, the SEC has set a financial hurdle for these investments. The logic is that an investor with greater assets is more savvy and sophisticated and has a greater tolerance for losses. In other words, they know what they are doing and can afford to fail.

That barrier to entry, the SEC's definition of an "accredited investor," is drawn at a net worth of $1 million or more and annual earnings of $200,000 ($300,000 for married couples). Barring state restrictions, productions are allowed a limit of 35 non-accredited investors, providing a list of criteria are met.

10 Movies That Predicted the Future

Efforts are also under way that urge the SEC to revisit its regulations to better reflect the realities of modern crowdfunding and micro-finance.

Offsetting the risk somewhat are a variety of state and federal tax breaks in place for film. Section 181 of the Internal Revenue Code, for example, once allowed investors to deduct 100% of funds invested in "qualified" films (up to $15 million of the budget) if they were shot domestically and had at least 75% of those funds earmarked for paying crew and actors.

One way you won't get to invest in movies is the futures market. Efforts to create such an exchange for motion pictures (treating releases like corn, wheat and other commodities) were squashed in the Dodd-Frank Act, a Congressional package of financial reforms and regulations. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission had approved the concept in 2010.

Movie studios had fought the idea on the grounds that somehow -- bribed movie critics, perhaps? -- investors would find a way to manipulate the success or failure of releases. Another objection voiced by critics is that such a futures market would could devolve into little more than online gambling.

-- Written by Joe Mont in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Joe Mont.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/josephmont.

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