Monday, December 7, 2009

Why's it taking so long?

Shirley and I have now been "in development" as they say on Travel Day since June of 2009 so it's been a little over six months since we put out our proposal for financing. We began with a bang, one investor came forward and said that if I could find half the financing he would probably be able to come forward with the second half.

Well, that second half seems to have disappeared as we are very close to the first half, coming from a small investor and the tax credits and equity from a Manitoba producer. I will be going to Manitoba next week to see Dane and discuss the completion of his end, which includes an LOI which is simply put, a letter of intent that he will commit to his side with the inclusion of a Canadian bank's LOI to loan money on the tax credit amount.

While six months seems like a long time, in the world of independent financing, it's barely a start. I had a meeting years ago with Dustin Hoffman's production company and his development exec told me Hoffman had a project to film in Ireland that he had been trying to fund for at least 10 years.

10 years. Dustin Hoffman who is a major star and legend.

And he can't get the money for his movie.

There's a movie out now called Up in The Air with George Clooney. It took writer/director Jason Reitman six years to get it made. And he has a famous dad, Ivan Reitman who did Ghostbusters among other films.

There are hundreds of stories like this; some projects linger for years before they are "discovered" by someone who will finance them. My own screenplay Emperor of Mars which I wrote in 1989 was optioned to be made at least 6 times as far as I can remember and as of last Wednesday, is still in the running to get made in summer of 2010 with me directing.

If the producers find the money. It's their third shot at it, having failed to get the money in 2008 and 2009.

Why does it take so long?

First of all let's define indie movies. In short, it's a movie that is made without studio financing. No Warner Bros, No Paramount or Universal, etc. There's only a guy looking for money from distributors or financiers or shopping mall owners or dentists, thus "independent" shortened to "indie". And why does it take so long? There are a hundred reasons, maybe more but mostly it has to do with the film being a "difficult sell".

What does that mean?

It means it doesn't have huge special effects,  or superheroes or Will Smith. Smith is arguably the biggest consistent box office star in the world. His movies never lose money.  Never. I  like his movies too. But even he can't be in every movie made although many studio executives look at any script and say "is there a part for Will Smith in this?"

Now the irony here is that the obvious answer is no. But studio executives these days somehow believe Will can be in every movie. And it's also a great excuse to say no to a project and save their job. If Will can't make it, then it won't make money and they won't have to explain to their bosses why their last $100 million movie flopped.

For Example:

  • Eddie Murphy's "IMAGINE THAT" cost $55 million and made $16 million.
  • Adam Sandler's "FUNNY PEOPLE" cost $75 million and made $52 million.
  • Land of the Lost cost over $100 million and made $48 million

Add in $20-40 million for prints and ads and the loss is even greater.

Another ironic factor that occurs in many indie films that take so long to get made is that they end up being very good movies that make a lot of money and win awards, even the big gold statue itself. How many times have you heard some actor or director winning an award and saying how many years it too to get made. Let me answer; very often.

Juno was turned down by studios and had financing problems until finally getting financed over a period of a few years and went on to make $100 million dollars, all on a budget of around $6 million and filmed in Canada.

Little Miss Sunshine was looking for money for 5 years before they found it. And of course, every studio turned it down.

And for what reasons? Well, no special effects or big stars or a remake. Studios today are terrified, and I repeat TERRIFIED of movies like the ones I just mentioned. And it's because they are character-driven stories and one can argue that since studio execs have no character, it's easy to see why they won't finance it.

When one or two men ran studios, guys like Warner and Fox and Cohen and the others, it was easier to get a good movie made. They went by their gut rather than research. Look at 1939 and tell me how many of these movies would never get made today:

They include Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Mice and Men, The Women, Beau Geste, Dark Victory, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Drums Along the Mohawk, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Ninotchka, Love Affair and Young Mr. Lincoln.

All released in 1939. And there were at least 200 more movies made in the same year!

Can you name that many great movies in 2009? Classic movies.

I can't.

Studios now are competing like hell for viewers and they are afraid to take chances on anything that doesn't lower itself to the lowest common denominator. More people buy Big Macs than gourmet burgers. That's why the studios are always on the look for a "franchise" which means a movie that can have sequels. X-Men, Batman, Spiderman, Pirates of the Carribbean.  You notice something there?

BIG. Big means big money.

Unless you make an indie film for $15,000 (yes 15 thousand dollars) called Paranormal Activity and has made to date over $100 million. And Paramount bought it 2 years ago and KEPT IT ON THE SHELF because they wanted to make a big Hollywood remake first. But finally someone noticed that college students liked it and finally when they made it, it made a fortune.

Why would anyone want to tackle this system and try to make a movie. All I can say is that there's nothing else I can do and nothing else I want to do, hell, even someone beat me to the moon. 

It all comes out to screenwriter William Goldman's famous saying about the entire movie industry. 

Nobody knows anything.


  1. Hey Jim:

    Congrats on all of the momentum with Emperor of Mars and TD! That's so wonderful. Since you're going back to God's Country next week, the momentum and goodness can only increase.

    I have a question. You were talking about how much money a movie makes. I was just wondering if DVD sales/rentals result in much additional income for movies? For example, do certain movies not do well in the conventional theatres, then turn around and do a lot better in home theatres?

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family and crew, as well as all of your readers. Thanks for giving us an entertaining education. A safe journey to you!


  2. dvd sales can sometimes exceed the money made by a movie in theaters but mostly it's less, especially now as dvd sales have been slipping drastically for years. In fact, that's a good idea for a post, I'll see if I can post Wed.

    PS will say hi from Shauna to SR. Can't wait for breakfast at the Gateway with the farmers.