An Action Filmmaker in Cannes – Day 3

Day 3 – Friday, May 18. Got to the producer’s workshop late. The speakers were two producers, one of whom, Katriel Schory, manages an Israeli film fund that finances 3-5 films per year at about $500,000 each. The discussion was on what kind of producers we are, creative, financial, or personal (often, you’re only one of them), and how to team up with producers of the other kinds.

The knockout blow of the talk though was when the other speaker Diana Elbaum discussed shelving films when they’re doomed, but rather than the old-school “quit while you’re ahead” approach, she went with, “Just finish the film, you’ve already got the money anyway.” So apparently these film funds, made up of tax dollars, just need to be used up by someone, and it better be you.

After she empathized with the poor, downtrodden Americans for not having a government that will pay us to make films, which felt no less than patronizing, they ended the discussion, and Rebecca and I went and spoke with our sales agent Wonderphil, who had some good (if bite-sized) news about interest in Death Grip by some territories. Long story short, we’re optimistic. We gave him a newly color-corrected version with the most recent soundtrack so he could keep making copies to send out to interested buyers. So we come out of a producer’s workshop that tries to convince us that we American indie filmmakers are in trouble, only to meet the good news of a sales agent actually making sales on our film that we financed privately. We felt very arrogant after that and drank our coffee appropriately.

I should interject here and clarify the difference between a “distributor” and a “sales agent”. Wonderphil is our sales agent, which means we’ve granted him the rights to sell Death Grip to distributors in various territories, be they Canada, America, Turkey, or any of a couple hundred countries where distributors bundle rights for films. We grant him this right because he knows how to deal with distributors, and filmmakers often do not, nor do we have the right connections to reach foreign distributors. Do you know any Estonian distributors? Neither do we, but WonderPhil does. Distributors in these territories are the ones who take the film, market it, and sell it to the public, either on DVD, Video on Demand (VOD, like Netflix, Hulu, etc.), TV, or (rarely) theatrical. The distributor’s deal with the sales agent (WonderPhil) pays out either as a single payment up front, royalties, or both. WonderPhil takes that money, subtracts his expenses, takes his cut, and the rest comes to us. With up-front payments, we as filmmakers actually see money. But when it comes to royalties, the checks that arrive on our doorsteps are in the range of twelve to forty-eight cents every three months, because the sales agents are getting 24-92 cents every three months. Aka zero, you make no money with royalties at this level. Sales agents know this, so they negotiate for up-front payments. Once your film is a $3M picture, royalties become a reality.

Moving on, we went on a tour of the market around 2pm, which wasn’t entirely useful but gave us the opportunity to meet a bunch of other producers and filmmakers who were just as desperate as the next, and many of whom were from America. All of them are trying to make their film, have no idea how to get funding, and haven’t made a marketable feature film before. Most producers in the workshops are in a similar boat. It’s nice knowing we’ve got two feature films in the market now (Contour and Death Grip), but the pain is still felt and we all felt a common disconnect from the market, which kept telling us to find European public money. If (you = American) {forget it}.

The second talk at the workshop was more informative than the first, and even more anti-American, which I found hilarious since a third of the audience in the room suddenly became the antagonists. The speaker Angus Finney  disapproved of the quality of American genre films (versus “drama” films) and gave some wonky statistics about how American films don’t make as much money as they should despite the huge budgets, etc. Not sure what he was getting at, but he definitely thought action films were for the crass and stupid, which would have made my mind shut off to what he was saying had he not had some decent talking points.

His best advice came his experience in working with financiers, who can hold up a production almost arbitrarily just because they have the “Financier” playing card.. Even if your cast and crew has a limited window, a financier has no incentive to move quickly on the project until he or she has invested at least a little bit of money, which he called getting them “pregnant”. Getting money to trickle in from investors is a good way to get them interested in continuing their investmnet. He also said to use his favorite playing card with investors, which was, “The more you wait to invest, the less chance we have to take advantage of this market opportunity.” So when approaching investors, don’t just have a market trend. Have a timeline for that market trend. It’ll get them moving faster.

Then the usual, “Get public funding”, “Co-produce with other countries”, etc.

From what I’ve gathered in three days, it seems the European independent film market is subsidized with these government film funds, which are grants, tax breaks, tax credits, and tax shelters. The funds are run by people who don’t seem to have any interest in genre films like action and sci-fi. Is it that genre films apply for these grants but fail to create a script worthy enough for the funding? Or does their marketability negate the need for these public funds? Maybe it’s just a big game theory, where film funds know that no action films will apply, and no action film thinks they’d have a prospect of acquiring funding. The reasons are irrelevant. What matters is that, as the Euro declines in value in the face of five debt-ridden Eurozone countries, there’s a worry here that these public funds might dry up. There’s a continual outpouring of sweat over whether “independent films will die”, but I think it’s overblown. The market for action and genre film is alive and well, and indie action filmmakers are around every corner now. Come on guys! Get some scripts going and show them we’ve got some clout!

We went over to the South Korean tent, where we learned that America has never done a coproduction there, though it seems it’d be really expensive to do something like that. We ate some leftovers to save money, brainstormed a scifi GENRE concept, ate some cheese and butter, and went to bed.

One thought on “An Action Filmmaker in Cannes – Day 3

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s