Friday, July 22, 2011

No Thanks To . . .

We happened to see a little-known movie on TV the other day called Made In Romania, a comedy about the making of an indie film. It was a light-hearted little thing with plenty of inside-the-movie-business chuckles and the central premise of the producer being ripped off by the financier, who insisted the movie be shot on location in Romania. But the funniest thing about the whole movie was the final credit, which read:

NO THANKS TO . . . all the miserable buggers out there who said no.

If you’ve ever been involved in raising money for movies – or any other entrepreneurial venture for that matter – you’ll recognise the sentiment in that one line.

Having been up the sharp end ourselves we were reminded of a few times we had been told “yes” by prospective investors, only to find that the money never arrived, the cheque bounced, or they never again answered their phone. And rather than dwell on the mind-numbing questions of why people do that sort of thing and how much pain you need to go through to get something worthwhile done, we thought we might share a few episodes we’ve encountered along the way. Miserable buggers, all of them!

Shortly after we started our company we were raising funds to look after our early business plan goals when we met Mr. G through one of our start-up investors. Over coffee in Singapore Mr. G regaled us with tales of his formidable investment company and uttered the magic line “Is $5 million enough?” Well that was that, we thought, we’re off to the races - as he promised to get back to us to discuss his company’s investment. But we should have paid more attention to his shifty eyes and crooked teeth, as we never received a dime from this guy. No thanks to Mr. G then, and we were off and running on the fundraising roller-coaster.

We were introduced to Mr. M by a mutual friend who said “He’ll take care of all your needs” which indeed seemed to be the case when we flew to London to meet him. After dinner in his Mayfair townhouse and being welcomed into his family, we heard the magic words “You won’t have to go anywhere else, I have all the contacts”. A genuine billionaire, Mr. M also had an actor son who wanted a supporting role in our debut movie, which we were happy to accommodate. OK then, and all’s well. However in the following weeks and months it became obvious that Mr. M liked the sound of his own voice more than he was prepared to do something about it. He retreated gently from our “main man”, through “camp follower” until he became a thin voice on the horizon uttering platitudes about “considering the situation” in a couple of years’ time. Funny and sad, especially as his rich-boy son never did develop a movie career for himself. No thanks to Mr. M.

We met Dave, a relative of our good friend S, in a bar in Singapore. As the beers went down, and as David began to glaze fondly at my beautiful business partner, he offered to finance a new venture between ourselves and S, which would finance our company’s future success. We would have loved to work directly with S, however the conversation lasted another couple of beers before David’s commitment became a little fluid, and it didn’t take long until he’d forgotten it altogether. We remain firm friends with S, but Dave? – never heard from him again. Beer money wasted and no thanks to him.

We were by now close to launching our movie investment fund. So when we were introduced to Mr. A and his large Japanese financial conglomerate – which coincidentally was getting into financing films and wanted to set up a film fund – it seemed like a perfect match. And so it seemed when we flew in to Tokyo to greet our new partner and Mr. I, its venerable founder. Our plan was agreed by the firm’s board, and we arranged to host a premier of our fund’s first film at the upcoming Singapore Film Festival. On their part Mr. I’s group promised to seed the fund with its first $2-3 million and sell it widely among its client base, the largest in Japan. We would be in charge of international distribution and Hollywood connections for the stream of movies we would make together. It all sounded too good to be true and sadly it was. The movie premiere was a success, but our partners had neglected to arrange distribution for its crucial Tokyo launch which scuppered our chance of making any money on it. And, they somehow forgot to contribute the all-important first $2 million in capital, and their legions of thousands of investors never quite got to hear about investing into our fund. To be completely fair our Mr. A had tried manfully throughout the whole episode to turn our agreement into reality but found himself swimming against the tide of his board. So, no thanks to Mr. I.

Mr. K, ahh, Mr. K saw himself as a bit of a dandy. When we flew to Hong Kong to meet him he had just published a book about himself and bought a football club in England. Of course he wanted to get into the movie business but, we should have known . . . Things went well over dinner with my beautiful business partner again the focus of the conversation. Mr. K offered to send his car to pick us up in the morning and assured us that his people would be in touch to close the deal the following week. But in the morning there was no car, and next week no deal. At this point we began to conclude that perhaps it’s easier for some folks to hear themselves say “Yes” then slither out the back door, than be honest and say “No” and move on. Definitely no thanks to Mr. K, who perhaps loved himself a little too much.

Mr. P was an interesting case, a solid international businessman with existing movie business experience. He met us on one of his trips to Singapore and, after smiling and nodding over breakfast, he committed to investing a decent amount into our business. However he did shift a little in his chair and look slightly askew as he shook hands . . . Maybe we should have picked up on that little bit of body language but, hey, we’re trusting folks. We next met him in London where he presented us with a signed formal offer of financing, as agreed. But then the trail began to go cold, he became harder to reach and eventually citied the flimsy excuse that he was prevented by his executive committee from investing his own money, hmmm. No more Mr. P and it was becoming clear to us that although we didn’t get any money or help from this cavalcade of charlatans, we’d be better off without them in the long run. No thanks to Mr. P.
-One healthy postscript to our dealings with Mr. P was that we had committed to ourselves, as you do, that if we got his offer of finance we would run the Singapore Marathon. So on our return from London, offer in hand, we signed up and ran the world’s hardest and most humid road race, enjoying every sweaty mile of it in the “knowledge” that our money was on the way. Oh yes, innocence can be sweet.

Next time we'll be back to conclude with a few more tales from our own personal front line. Meanwhile feel free to share your own experiences with us, good or bad and hopefully funny.

The Out Of Obscurity team.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

What Does It Take?

For one reason and another we’ve been musing a lot lately on the question “What does it take to get your movie made?”

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that a well-known producer recently failed to get a movie greenlit by a studio because he wasn’t able to reduce his budget from $60 million to $50 million. Times have changed and DVD sales are slumping so studios are looking to lower their exposure and spend less on movies such as comedies, which don’t necessarily play well everywhere. However, what caught our eye was the producer’s comment that although he believed he had a potential hit movie with two big stars, he couldn’t lower the budget “because of the talent involved”. Basically that means that two highly-paid A-listers weren’t prepared to work within a budget to get a movie made and would rather – or their agents would rather – they didn’t take a project for a lower payday. It was also reported this week that Cameron Diaz took a substantial pay-cut for her role in Bad Teacher, no doubt in exchange for a profit share should the movie succeed. In any other business that’s common sense – working within limitations especially when times are lean. In truth most movies these days have this kind of buy-in from the creative talent and if that helps get more movies made then it’s got to be a good thing. But you have to shake your head when you see nonsense written in black and white such as projects getting shelved because of an egocentric lack of will to get a movie made.

Obviously there’s a lot of hard work, dedication and blind faith at various points along the way to making your movie. But on top of having a great script and the will to put it all together, there’s often an element of craziness that creeps in around the edges. It’s like holding your hand over a flame, or wondering how long can you keep going into the dark before you see the light appear at the tunnel’s end. You find yourself working crazy hours, doing everything that needs to be done . . .OK, that’s par for the course. You don’t get paid while you’re in development . . . OK, par for the course again. You find yourself missing out on important events with family and friends . . . OK again, sometimes sacrifice is necessary, and who needs a life anyway? These are all everyday symptoms of a writer/director/producer’s life, I hear you say, and of course that’s true.

But, If you’ve ever found yourself asking the question “Am I really going down the right road?” or “What more would I sacrifice/sell/give up to get this done?” then you’ll recognise that things can get a whole lot crazier. We see a lot of projects from lots of producers and some of them have made great sacrifices to get their movies made. And in some cases they’re still sacrificing in the hope of getting their movies made. Where you draw the line is definitely a personal thing as to how much you’re prepared to beg, steal and borrow to achieve your goal. If you’re burning with a passion for your movie, and it’s your life’s mission to get it made no matter what crappy job you have to take or how long you have to wait, then go for it. There’s no substitute for sheer passion and belief. But if you’re not absolutely sure, either about the merits of your project or about your own life-or-death devotion to the cause, then take a long look in the mirror . . .

Most entrepreneurial ventures are challenging, but it seems that making movies is a quirky bit harder than the rest, since you’ve got to raise money from sceptical people to enable you to make something artistic and financially very risky in order to have a chance of succeeding in getting your product out in the marketplace . . . and that’s all before you run the remote risk of making money for yourself and your backers. In some cases the best you can hope for is that your investors respect your artistic vision and enjoy the movie as contributing pioneers to your voyage into the unknown. Of course if you make a great movie and get yourself a proper distribution deal then you’ll gain respect both for your artistic vision and your financial acumen, and you’ll be set up for your next bunch of movies.

As well as running our fund and assisting film-makers find finance for their projects in other ways, we recently received a firm offer of finance on a movie project of our own. It has taken many sacrifices and leaps of faith to get this far, but things are falling into place and we can only hope they continue to do so. More on this anon.

Lately we’ve been helping out a friend, an experienced producer who’s packaging a great movie for a $5 million budget, and he’s aiming to bring in an Oscar-winning A-list star to headline and direct. A tall order, surely, when big stars get millions per movie from the studios. Mr D., our friend, believes he can get Mr. W, the star, because he loves the material and wants to do the movie. But D’s trying frantically to keep the project out of the hands of W’s agents, who will inevitably talk up the budget, Mr. W’s fee (and their 10%), and scupper Mr. D’s project by taking it to a studio where it will be endlessly rewritten into a pulp. Right now it’s finely balanced and if Mr. W says yes, then D can make his movie his way. We’re hoping Mr. W shares our belief and decides to participate in a great movie that won’t keep him out of the studios’ clutches for too long.

What it takes to get your movie made only you will discover. How much are you prepared to give to realise your dreams?

The Out Of Obscurity team.