Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I continue to email the handful of possible producers and I made another call that could be interesting.  My attorney early on had said that I should investigate the Canadian angle, finding a producer in Canada who could access the tax credits.

But before I did that, I had called a friend of mine, a screenwriter who suddenly was offered a job as a development executive for a Canadian pay channel, much like Showtime.  We had known each other for around 8 years and I respected her ability to survive in a writer's world.  When she asked me what I was up to, I said Travel Day.  She asked to read it so I emailed it to her.
Now, to distribution.  One major element of putting together a film is the distributor. I've been holding off on this for awhile because getting a distributor is,  in some ways, essential, and in other ways impossible.  There's an old saying in Hollywood, you don't look for a distributor who won't screw you, you look for the one who will screw you the least. 

My first adventures with the species was on Ghostkeeper, we had a foreign sales agent, Alex Massis of ICM,  International Cinema Marketing, whom my producer found somewhere.  He was a New York sales agent and my distributor for Ghostkeeper, that little suspense thriller I made in 1980.  Alex was a typical fast-talking  salesman who took our film to Europe and made sales to New World in the US. 

It had "brisk" sales as they like to say and Alex took his 35% and of course, "expenses".  The problem with expenses is that you never really know the truth, did he claim expenses against my film and possibly not even show it to some buyers.  All I had was his word.  And there were other expenses as well, some legitimate and some not.  By the time the net sales came back to me, I was getting about 40% of the gross. Which went right to the investors, rightfully so. In the end I made a little less than $10,000.

For everything. 

Writing, directing and owning the company, Badland Pictures.  But like a lot of writers I really didn't care as long as it sold and made money for the investors, because that meant I could make another film.  Okay, I was young and idealistic.

The question here is why didn't I have a distributor in place before?  Ghostkeeper came about quickly during the tax shelter days and we had the money in place within a month and rushed into production.  Halfway through, the money began to run out due to some questionable practices by the hired producer and I had a choice, shut down the movie or speed up and compromise the action scenes we had. 

There was only one choice, we move on.  

Basically I could not film the scenes that I had written,   so with John Holbrook, my DP,  we went on set every morning and asked what we  had in the way of actors and sets that day and figured out something that we could film.  We filmed the entire movie in a closed-down hotel so at least we didn't have to make big moves. The crew stuck with me and we finished it and my editor Stan Cole, performed miracles with the footage.  Stan edited A Christmas Story, that classic comedy that plays on Turner for 24 hours during Christmas. 

Afterwards, I was talked into using Massis by my producer and we had to make a quick decision as AFM (American Film Market, held in L.A) was happening and we had to get the feature there.  Distribution is tricky, few distributors would have given us a deal as I was a first-time director and we had no real stars. 

And any deal would probably have been worse that the one from Massis.  At least his overhead, a small office in NYC with one secretary, would be less expensive than a distributor like MGM (who considered it for a moment) and the others.  Their bite would have been much bigger.  The thing is, the less known you are, the less a distributor would give you.  Sort of like when Colonel Tom Parker signed Elvis. 

And today, it's even worse, as star-driven movies don't get distributors.  The most paid at Toronto was around $2.5 million and there were very few sales. Sandra Bullock's last movie, All About Steve was sitting on the shelf unreleased until her previous movie, The Proposal, made a respectable debut, so the earlier movie was immediately thrown into the ring. 

Ultimately this is the conundrum;  First, there is little chance of getting a distributor even if you have a star in it as stars aren't worth the value they used to be.  Second, if you do get a distrib, the deal will probably be as much to their advantage as possible.  (Note: I have a film contract software in which you can write a distrib contract to your advantage, or to the distrib's advantage). 

Or do you want to risk no distributor until the film is made where, if it's good, you can make a better deal.  And often a better deal is maybe $10,000 rather than $1500.  I've seen those deals.  The days of high price acquisitions have faded.

Then there's the presale. 

This is a whole other animal and unfortunately not as big as it used to be.  You could get hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign presales of your movie and use that to make up the budget. 

But a glut of films and poor sales makes it a lot harder to get now, and not that much if you do.  For these you have to have recognizable actors and very often, the buyers get to pick the star from a list.  So you may not get the actor you want, but you get the money desperately needed to make the movie.  Sometimes you can get your way, sometimes not.  It depends on how much you want to make the movie.  

To date, we haven't spoken to distributors but have been in contact with Hank (see finding money Pt 2)  who actually still does presales to a few European countries.  I kept thinking that there just might be something there, I just needed something more in our package than what we have now.  Nothing new has been added to the snowball and it seems to be slowing down.

All of which isn't where I want it to be, considering that AFM is coming up,  where every distributor in the world will be hawking their product in Santa Monica hoping to uplift their weakening market.  It's a mix of American movies and international films, many of the high concept suspense/horror/action genre with actors you've never heard of, or actors you haven't heard from for years.  And every other movie has Michael Madsen in it.

And I will be dragged kicking and screaming by my friend who insists I have to be there to see what the market is like and if there's a slot for Travel Day. 

We need one more thing for Travel Day to make it prettier.

NOTE: Click on Deadline  shown in My Blog List on left side of posts.  A great speech you should read from Bill Mechanic.

1 comment:

  1. It's all bloody fascinating. Hard to believe there are so many bits n pieces to the puzzle...