JEFF PROBST’S INDEPENDENT PURSUIT (part 3)

Ever buy lottery tickets yourself? ^ Never played. No interest.
How were you able to secure the funding for the film? ^ From the moment I started sending the script out it received a good response. This was way back on draft number four. I had producers wanting to produce it and actors wanting to act in it. That really helped encourage me to continue working on it. The first real break was when I moved to Los Angeles from New York. I’d already had interest from some Seattle producers, but I didn’t think they had enough experience to bring to the project what it needed so I was continuing to look for a producer to partner with. My new next door neighbor, and soon to become very good friend, Jim Depue (a different Jim) was a Transpo Coordinator and was working with Stephen Baldwin on a project. He took it to Baldwin and Baldwin was immediately interested. He called me from a plane en route to Sundance and said he wanted to make the movie. Now at this point, I didn’t know a damn thing about anything. I didn’t know anybody, had no experience, nothing. So I’m just sitting in my office, replaying this very “Baldwin” voice saying he wants to make my movie. I was ecstatic. So I met with Baldwin and suddenly the idea wasn’t as exciting anymore – just wasn’t gonna be the situation I wanted, so I kept looking. But I used the Baldwin interest to get another producer on board. John Kelly worked for a company and they were gonna co-finance it with me, I would pay half out of my own pocket and they’d match that and we’d make it for around $300K. That went on for a while and that too started looking less appealing, BUT we took this level of interest and used it to get the interest of yet another, producer, Katy Wallin and that’s when things really took off. Katy was aalso casting director who had great contacts and an amazing way of convincing people to do nutty things for no money. The first big break we had as a team was sending the script to James Earl Jones and getting a “yes”. That is a day I will never ever forget for as long as I live. James Earl Jones said “yes”. We had no money for the actors, we had only 17 shoot days, we had no other actors cast, I hadn’t directed so much as traffic and yet, in fact, we didn’t even have financing yet and still, he was taking a chance with us because he believed in us and he said “the script was one of the best things he’d read in years”. Now if you’re wondering, how do you get the script to James Earl Jones? Well, in our case, Katy simply called up his agent, said “I have a script your client is gonna love” and they said send it on. That is one discovery that I was delighted to learn – actors really are looking, searching, yearning for good material. If you write a compelling story with strong, interesting characters, you will find your actors. We wrere still a long way from making the movie. It was still a very long journey through several different production companies until we found a company that we believed would let us make the movie we wanted to make without any interference. A pretty tall order for a group of idiots like us that had no track record. But we found that company in Shavick Entertainment out of Los Angeles. James Shavick funded the movie at 1.5 million and we shot over the course of 17 days in Vancouver. I think the two keys to getting this movie made were 1) the script and 2) Katy Wallin. We knew actors were attracted to the script because it was an ‘actors piece’. But finding a company who wants to finance an “actors piece” is tough. Katy had great resources and she’s very charmistmatic. She is a producer. You have to have a producer. She knew who to call, what to say and how to close a deal. Qualities I didn’t have. I would still be sitting in Starbucks getting a refill on my decaf latte if Katy hadn’t come on board.
Can you offer any kernels of advice to emerging filmmakers on how they might secure funds? I mean, what do you say in the room to someone you are are asking to write a check for tens of thousands of dollars? ^ This is a tricky question, there is no template. You have to have “something” to pique their interest. Getting actors attached is a good one as actors are what drive the financing. I was at the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago watching a panel discussion. This was right after Titantic had come out and DiCaprio was the biggest thing on the planet. Some production company announced that they were hoping to get Leo DiCaprio for their next movie and they were willing to pay his $20 million asking price. A guy from Stratosphere stood up and said, “we’ll pay Leo $20 million to do whatever he wants too! I don’t even need a script in place!” His point was, if you had DiCaprio you HAD your money. Didn’t matter the project. You had your star. Actors, like it or not, RULE the industry. An attachment is nothing more than a letter from an actor saying that if schedule allows and a deal can be agreed to that they are interested in being a part of your project. It isn’t really anything at all, but at least it tells a production company that you’re working and that you’ve gotten the script out to people and there is some interest. Now, having said that, if the actor you’ve attached is a guy who biggest role was a “five and under” on The Practice, then forget about it. You have to be realistic. If you’re a first time director, it’s another hurdle. If you have a stellar short, that’s worth something. But the bottom line is, you have to be really good in the room. The biggest concern for every actor , with the exception of James Earl Jones, was “who is the director?” I met with everyone of them and had to convince them they could count on me and that I had a plan, that I knew what I was doing, that I understood the story, the theme, their character, arcs, where to put a camera, how to run a set, how to get the script shot in 17 days. Lastly, you really need a producer. You need someone on your team who has some credits, not your cousin Bobby who used to sell golf clubs for Calloway. Someone who has done this before. Look up credits of producers for movies you like and send ‘em your script. Try to find people who’ve done material similar in tone or theme. It’s very, very hard to get money, especially today, but if you have a good story and a good team, you CAN get in doors and you CAN get your movie made.
Get the rest of the interview in part four of JEFF PROBST’S INDEPENDENT PURSUIT>>>




Posted on January 4, 2002 in Interviews by
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