GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – CO-PRODUCTIONS (FINANCING PART TWO)

Over the past five Octobers, my company has trekked to Tokyo, Japan to attend TIFFCOM, an up-and-coming film sales market that runs concurrent with the Tokyo Film Festival. Knowing that very few American companies attend TIFFCOM, and achieving healthy sales in Japan are primarily based on trust and relationships, Edward Stencel and I have found an oasis of opportunity just by maintaining our relationships there.

One amazingly productive event we engage in while we’re there is The Tokyo Project Gathering. TPG is a four-day international co-production market where filmmakers meet with producers, financiers and distributors from all over the world in order to discuss ways to collectively finance their projects. We usually listen to 25-35 pitches each per year, some of which are given to us via a translator (which is a very cool experience because it reinforces the fact that a great idea is a great idea in any language). If you knew me personally, you’d know that I love to: a) talk and b) meet people. So, I’m always a breath or two away from losing my voice at the end of each TPG.

The reason I’m mentioning TPG is to shed light on ways of financing your film that you may not be considering. While you may be asking yourself why I am suggesting you fly half way around the world to finance your film, ask yourself something else; why not? Tokyo is one of the most incredible cities on the planet where the food is great, the people are nice, and the Tokyo Fish Market is something you will never forget. Besides, a trip to Tokyo will only cost you about $2,500-$3,000. If that seems expensive, consider the fact you’re probably budgeting your film right now for several hundred thousand to a few million dollars. Thus, spending a few thousand dollars to get your dream financed is a pretty good trade off, isn’t it?

Another key co-production market that you should consider attending is the Producers Network during the Cannes Film Festival. Since Edward and I attend Cannes three times per year for the Cannes Film Festival/Film Market and two TV markets, I can assure you that you will not regret making your way to the South of France in May. It’s quite a breathtaking experience that will not only invigorate your creativity, but it will expand your Rolodex overnight. Cannes is clearly the Super Bowl of film events, so you will meet the best of the best from Africa to Austin and beyond. Of course, since you belong in that category yourself, you should probably meet your peers as soon as you can.

The co-production market at the European Film Market (EFM) during the Berlin Film Festival is also excellent. This event lasts two and a half days every February (not three days, but two and a half, since Germans are so exact about everything). The insight on this market is simple:

a)   Berlin is a world-class city and the Berlin Film Festival (where the co-production market is concurrent with) is one of the finest film festivals in existence.

b)   The people in Berlin are incredibly serious and committed to their craft, so the “flake factor” will be at a minimum.

c)   The weather in Berlin during February is about as cold as the weather in Hell is hot.

Okay, that comparison may be a bit exaggerated, but Berlin is damn cold. If you consider “snow” to be a four-letter word for more than one reason, make sure you’re bundled up before you go. Of course, I find Berlin in February to be especially unpleasant, because I’m in Park City the week before for Sundance. So, my teeth are usually chattering from mid-January to mid-February.

On a side note  – which has nothing to do about this article but is nonetheless interesting – several restaurants and hotel lobbies in Berlin in February have flat screen televisions with images of a chimney fire burning on them. When I saw them for the first time, I thought, “What the hell is a televised image of fire going to do for me? I’m still damn cold. Somebody, turn up the heat!” The hotels and restaurants claim that warm images of fire always help their guests feel warmer, but it think it’s probably the work of an incredibly gifted sales person who got them to buy into the scam.

The one thing to know about Cannes, Berlin and Tokyo is that since they’re incredibly fun cities to play in, everyone involved in the co-production markets are usually in a damn good mood. The best way to get something from someone is to ask them for what you need while they’re ridiculously happy. Thus, just as the person you’re pining to meet is sucking down his or her fourth shot at that mind-blowing, ridiculously ostentatious yacht party you slid into in Cannes, or at a cocktail party overlooking Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, or even during a 4 A.M. adventure to the Tokyo Fish Market, ask if you can buy them lunch sometime to discuss your project. They may be too busy to accept, but your gesture will probably get you their e-mail address, or at least get you their assistant’s e-mail address, which is a start.

Another thing to consider about going overseas is the fact that you endured a painfully long flight, lost luggage and delays at customs to find a way to finance your film, tells the people you meet with all they need to know about your commitment to your project. Besides, you’ll have a lot of fun. Film markets and co-production conferences are rarely placed in boring cities. I grew up in Kansas, which I still love dearly, but you’ll probably never see many international co-production movers and shakers converge at the Embassy Suites in Overland Park. You will, however, see them in Cannes, Tokyo, Berlin and other world-renowned destinations.

By the way, if you’re wondering why I’m not mentioning AFM in Santa Monica as a great place to initiate co-productions, it’s because the rapid decline of the Euro has directly affected how many European financiers and distributors make the trip to Santa Monica. Ever since the Euro has tumbled in value, I’m hearing several European financiers say they’re choosing to attend the European co-production markets in order to save money. Don’t get me wrong. AFM is a solid market, but if you want to fund your film from other parts of the world, then it may be a good idea to actually visit those parts of the world.

When you do grab your passport, buy an eye pillow (Bucky eye pillows are awesome) and fly the friendly skies to meet with the people who may help your dream become a reality, here are a few key points, which may help you have a positive experience.

Don’t Give Them A Copy of Your Script or DVD
Most people will want you to mail or e-mail them a copy of your work, instead of taking it from you on the spot. Even if they would accept your sample right then and there, tell them you’d rather send it to them after the market. This is because regardless of how interested they may be in your film, they probably won’t take your sample home with them. When you try to follow-up with them a few weeks later, they’ll just pass on your film instead of admitting they never actually gave it a look. Why won’t they give your film a look?  Simple. When a distributor, financier or like-minded person is at a film market or co-production gathering, they hear at least 100 different ideas. If every filmmaker gives them a DVD, script, one-sheet or an electronic press kit on their film, they have 100 extra things to pack in their suitcase the night before they fly home. Just imagine sitting in your hotel room, looking at 100 items that you have no space for, and wondering if it’s worth paying for the extra baggage fees to transport the work of filmmakers you met for forty-six seconds. Never mind the fact your luggage just got a hell of a lot heavier and more cumbersome to carry. See what I mean? Your film will either be thrown away or simply left in the hotel room. So, unless the cleaning staff of the hotel is in the business of financing films (which is possible, you never know), your work will be prematurely disregarded. The better move would be to send your work to their office a few days after they get home. That way, you will be fresh in their minds, and you won’t become one of the countless people they met at a party.

Don’t Talk About Your Film Too Much
If you give people the word-for-word, scene-by-scene account of your film, they’ll felt like they’ve already seen it and have no reason to inquire further about it. Keep it simple. Give them a taste, but not a full bite, and they’ll want the four-course dinner.

Ask Them About Themselves
One of the biggest mistakes I see filmmakers making at co-production meetings is they’re so wrapped up into their film’s universe, they never bother to ask anything about the people they’re meeting. Spent some time learning about with whom you’re meeting, and you’ll quickly find out what they respond to and how you can best utilize their abilities to benefit your film.

Don’t Be Set In Stone Over How Your Film Should Be Made
If someone asks you if you’d consider changing you film from being about a drug bust in Detroit, to being about a drug ring in Paris, keep an open mind. If you flat-out say “no,” you’d better have a compelling reason why the city in your story can’t be changed. Just know the person inquiring about this change is probably asking you for two reasons; 1) They’re looking to see how open you are to changes in your film and 2) They may have a source of financing based in the location they’re inquiring about.

Keep An Open Mind With Casting
When dealing with co-productions, you’ll have to consider what every actor you choose to cast is worth on an international stage (When I say “actor” I mean both male and female actors). It’s amazing how varied the value of actors can be overseas. Thus, you could pay the same amount for two actors, where one could be worth ten times more than the other. Meeting with an international distributor/sales company would be a good first step to learning what your proposed actors are worth.

International co-productions may seem daunting or far-fetched, but they’re actuality rewarding and fun. If you notice I often mention the “fun” factor, just know it’s done on purpose. Fun work won’t seem like work at all, and what else could you ask for from a job?

The key to having a successful co-production is to create a multi-country collaboration to unlock financing hurdles together. Meaning, there is a stack of cash out there in some national, regional or city based production fund, in some country you’ve never put in your vacation plans, just waiting to be spent on your film. But that pile of green, blue, purple, or whatever color of currency finances your baby, will need certain elements to be involved in your film before the funds flow your way.  It’s like leading a horse to water. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can also lead a filmmaker to financing, but you can’t make him or her fly. But, if you choose to “fly” to help your film get off the ground, you’ll quickly meet the elements that you can turn around and thank during your Academy Award acceptance speech a few years from now.

Until next Tuesday, thanks for lending me your eyes.




Posted on July 27, 2010 in Features, Going Bionic by
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