Monday, March 28, 2011

Here's a piece of artwork I had done for my proposal for Ghostkeeper 2. I always believed that offering some images in a proposal helps the potential investor actually see something. After all, movies are a visual medium.

The two storyboard frames here are a little overdone, being that the terrific artist added color and a bit of comic book visuals to the storyboard frame. Most storyboards are black & white sketches, far more economical and still illustrating the action.

The top wide-screen frame is a  scene in which two of the principal actors barely escape a gas explosion. The lower frame is the final big action scene with the creature being trapped. And finally the background scene is meant to be a poster of sorts, in which we see the creature in darkness and with snow falling. And red eyes. All horror movies should have red eyes.

And the very use of storyboards is quite eclectic, take for example the following quotes:

"For Duel, the entire movie was storyboarded"
                         - Steven Spielberg

"I sometimes storyboard, not always"
                        - Alfred Hitchcock

"I never make any storyboards"
                        - Bernardo Bertolucci

So there you go. No clear idea as to what one should do. So you end up doing whatever works for you. I had no storyboards on Ghostkeeper 1980 but I will do storyboards on the new movie. But not the whole movie.

I will storyboard the action scenes for the most part because that's the most visual part and it just helps to show the actors and the crew what my little mind is thinking.

But the odd thing is that storyboards are often disregarded when you're  on the set.

Going back to the proposal, most of them don't have visuals, but as I said, I like to put something in that the investor can see, I think it helps. But there's a hundred ways to impress an investor. Maybe a thousand.

So this week I pass out my proposal to several friends as well as two producers who might be able to help me find the nearly $2 million that I need. I'm getting out of town for a few days and going to Yosemite which will be peaceful and quiet mid-week and still early in the season.

And there I'll work out what comes next in terms of Ghostkeeper but also considering a screenplay to write for another Christmas season. And of course some mountain biking as well to "cleanse" the system. Always works for me.

One more thing; the artist who did this work talked about how a lot of movies start out as graphic novels and that it's becoming a common practice to do a graphic novel as a way of getting someone to fund a movie.

And we just might do that if the time frame works out.

Visuals. That's what movies are about.

(Thurs: Yosemite)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Crooks and Angels

First of all, good news on the re-release of Ghostkeeper 1980. The distributor has acquired 2 35mm prints that were in storage somewhere in NYC for probably almost 30 years. He has screened them and apart from some scratches at head and tail, which is pretty normal, they are both good.

What happens next is that he will transfer the 35mm film to digi-beta, which is the standard intermediate these days, and costly. But so far he's paying the bill. Naturally he'll get his money back before I see my share but this is also normal.

Distributors usually share income with producers, or in this case, me. But the key is that well-known game called "expenses". Something that the producer can rarely pin down. A receipt for $250 for a dinner could be for a potential sale -- or a great dinner for the distrib and his/her spouse. 

And it does happen.

The word on my distrib is that he's pretty honest, this coming from some people I know who have dealt with him. And he keeps in touch with me regularly which is also a good sign.

 But for many distribs, stealing is just "doing business". And it's been going on since movies began. There are probably a dozen cases each year in which a producer has to sue the studio or network or other distributors for money owed.

Director and producer Peter Jackson sued New Line saying he was underpaid by at least $100 million. Their usual claim is that the movie isn't in profit. Considering that Lord of the Rings has made at least nearly $1 billion, it seems unlikely that it's not in profit.

And that's where the fun begins as the studio lays out such a complicated structure of who gets what and how much that it takes years to figure it out, if ever. So it becomes a game of who can last longer. 

I did not see a penny from Ghostkeeper 1980, the investors got a mild return and the distributor died after a few years. But I learned my lesson and this time, will have a better deal. 

For what that's worth.

And then there's angels. 

The term comes from businessmen or "money" as they're often referred to (as in "he's the money") who appear at the last moment, just as a film seems to be faltering in raising the needed funds.

So there, like an angel, he/she appears not with glimmering sunlight, but with a briefcase full of money. And it happens more often than you think. 

But there's also a catch; these angels aren't always doing it for love of the movies; they're doing it because they can negotiate a deal in which they get paid even before the other investors.

As the old saying goes "why do you think they call it show business?" 

I'm still not at that point, all I've done is an "exploratory" as political candidates call it. But next week I begin to hold my hat out and hope that someone takes the first step. I do have  almost the rest of the year to raise the almost $2 million.

One of the ironies is that it's harder to raise $2 million than $50 million. This is because with a $2 million budget you're not going to get big stars (there is an exception which I'll tell you about), or big special effects or a comic book rip-off. What you get are actors nobody's heard of, or some 2nd or 3rd level actors, a short schedule and basically a drama, and dramas don't sell well. 

With $50 million you can get Dustin Hoffman or Robert DeNiro or the latest hot guy Bradley Coopper or maybe even Ryan Reynolds (whose appeal continues to defy logic). And the producers can make more money.

The exception to the b-actor movie is that now alot of movie stars are turning to low budget films, and not for the craft or the love of it; no, they have realized that one can be nominated for an Oscar in a good story made cheaply.

Take Nicole Kidman this year, and Annette Bening, both who did low budget character-driven stories. Michelle Williams, who has done big movies, did Wendy and Lucy, made for under $500k. 

But for now, I'm happy the 35mm print of Ghostkeeper will be released on dvd and other markets by late summer. And it's one step closer to shooting Ghostkeeper 2.

(Mon: Coincidences)


Monday, March 21, 2011

Pitfalls, scammers, crooks and angels

Money. Everybody wants money. It's the stuff dreams are made of (borrowing Bogart's answer in the Maltese Falcon).

And movies take a little bit or alot. You can make 2 feature films for $10,000 like my friend Randy did (see under links) or you can make Avatar for around $300 million.  And everything in between.

I remember the first time my friend and I raised $650,000 for Ghostkeeper in 1980. Today's inflated equivalent would be around $1.7 million. We had six investors and each wrote us a check out of their checkbook. Just like I would write a check for $50.

The checks were the same as mine, pictures of mountains or animals or straight bank green pattern. But they were for around $100,000 each. There's an interesting story about this wherein I almost lost the movie. I'll save it for the end of this blog.

How do you ask for $1.9? You say "I need $1.9 million very much."

To be honest, I'm not that good at raising it myself, if I was I wouldn't be a filmmaker. Very few of us are able to lie, for one thing. Maybe it's an artsy thing. And there are some who are good at it. My friend was really more responsible for getting the $650,000 and I was the color guy, you know, the artsy type who talks about images and pacing and atmosphere.

He was one of those who could raise money and he could talk investors into anything. And in fact he did.

The fact is that most producers who raise money will say or do anything to get it. They are scam artists, crooks and sometimes brilliant. And filmmakers need them. Neither really care for each other, but without each other, they're nothing.

I know, you're saying that I'm saying that you gotta have a crook to find money?

Well, yes.

But with a little bit of honesty if you can find them, and someone you can almost trust. There are honest producers, but they're mostly rich guys anyways and even they would rather you use someone else's money than their own.

Good producers are a little bit of con men, always have been and still are. How else can you sell a dream? You can't show an investor a movie, you have to have him imagine it with the help of a screenplay and a few storyboards and maybe even a 2 minute trailer. And it's no real indication if the movie will be good or if it will even get made.

So first you better know how to tell a good story. And good producers can do that. A friend of mine describes the best pick is "a guy (or girl) with a cheap cellphone and rent due. And if you don't believe me, read bios of producers, they will literally sell their mothers.

So what do they get out of it? Same as a car salesman, a commission. And the feeling that they raised the money, it's an ego thing too. And they help a filmmaker realize his or her dream.

But sometimes they can stab you in the back. Like Ghostkeeper, where our investment was a 100% tax shelter. But unknown to me, the investors also signed a loan agreement. That's the best of two worlds, if the movie flops, they get paid. If the movie makes money they get paid.

While that sounds great there's one big issue here; once the investor pays into a tax shelter that money, by government rules, has to be at risk. If it makes no money, the investor wins as he gets 100% of the shelter. Having a loan agreement also is actually against the law, you can't have it both ways, a tax shelter and a loan.

So I was called to a meeting where the investors decided to take the film over from me. All of a sudden I was alone. I hadn't repaid the "loan" because I was never told there was a loan and they had it in their loan contract that they could take over.

But I knew one thing. They couldn't have it both ways.

So I answered them by saying I would call Revenue Canada (same as IRS) and ask them what they thought. Naturally all investors knew what the tax guys would say, since they already filed for their tax shelters. They would say "you just broke the law".

It was over as fast as it began. The film remained mine.

And you know what, at least two of the investors still talk to me, we even have lunch when I'm back in Canada.

Can't live with them, can't live without them.

So Monday I begin talking to people who can recommend me to people who know people who can get money or find money from someone else.

And then there's angels.

(Thurs: More on crooks and angels)

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Still working on the proposal, I'm about a week behind and contacted the two parties that have expressed interest in Ghostkeeper 2 but I also squeezed in a small polish on the screenplay.

I'm not sure how others work at this but I find that my best time to work is in the morning, after lunch I am truly bored and tired. But then again, the work I do in the morning is pretty intensive, I can type for a good four hours before I stop.

But there are those moments when I wonder why I'm attempting this at all. I left the security of a full-time job in 1979 and in the 30-some years of being a freelancer, have learned the inevitable rejections that come with the territory. 

In fact the majority of the work I did was either rejected or ended due to the producers not finding funds. Ghostkeeper was a combination of being in the right place at the right time with the right people. And you can spend the rest of your life looking for that combination and never finding it again.

But then again, some people never find it.

A lot of my friends remind me that, after being in the business nearly 40 years, I am still in the game with at least a chance.  To be honest, some days I don't realize how old I am, other days make me wonder why I continue.

But then, I was doing that at 25.

What's bothering me now is that one of my major supporters on Ghostkeeper 2 has bowed out, not because of the project, but rather he doesn't really want to do it anymore. According to him, it's not me or anyone, he's just been burned too many times and feels he can't come up with the energy and focus that is demanded.

He'll be on the sidelines cheering, but feels he's simply too old to keep doing this.

I remind  him that Clint Eastwood, at 80, is preparing to shoot the 3rd for 4th remake of A Star Is Born. And Robert Altman was in his 80's before he died. And John Huston directed his last movie with oxygen tanks at his side.

My favorite answer to retirement is this; I'll retire when my face falls down on the keyboard. And when they bury me I want my laptop with me just in case I come up with a good idea.

A joke? Not at all. This business and wanting to walk on the moon were and continue to be the only things I ever wanted so why would I quit?

And after my friend dropping out, another friend appeared to take his place. So now I have a little more support, just enough to keep going and finish this damn proposal and get the artwork from the artist and start the really hard part of developing a project;

Finding $2 million dollars.

(Mon: Easy money?)

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Loneliness of the long distance filmmaker

You've begun to see the amount of things I'm doing to make Ghostkeeper 2 a reality this year. There's one thing I didn't mention.

Most of what I'm doing, I'm doing by myself.

I've always been a one-man band of sorts, since I have good knowledge of almost every aspect of filmmaking, I am able to put together  reasonable package. In fact, I actually wrote 3 Private Offering Prospectus' which passed the necessary Securities Commission examination.  I simply got a stack of Private Offerings and cut and paste, in the process learning a hell of a lot as to why lawyers make things so complicated.

More words mean more money. You can say it in 2 pages like my distributor or 30 pages like a contract from Disney.

But for now, I'm on my own, putting together the proposal, doing a rewrite on my screenplay this week and working with a graphic artist on some artwork for the proposal. You can see my Travel Day proposal under Materials on the right side of the blog. I was helped a great deal by Shirley and her abilities with images.

So every day for me is a variety of emails, refining the proposal which I hope to have out by early next week, working over the budget again using Movie Magic Budgeting software and coming up with an Internet campaign to promote both the release of Ghostkeeper 1980 and production of Ghostkeeper 2.

I would love to have help, especially on the money side, and I do have two producers hunting around for money, but developing a movie is expensive and I simply can't afford to do it that way. So I learn and push forward.

And mostly, the others who will be working on the film, just wait.

I don't like waiting, so I guess that's why I take a lot of jobs on, and do the best I can. Someone will come along and tell me my budget is off, so I tell him to fix it. Simple.

But as Norman Jewison said about Cher after she thanked her hairdresser after winning the Oscar for Moonstruck... "I didn't do it ALL by myself."

I am working with the artist, and paying him his rate, and I have friends who look over my script, my proposal and a hundred other things.

But ultimately, nobody really cares if I do this movie or not. And that's the truth. It won't be any great loss if it doesn't get made. I know that every morning and at the end of every day. And there are some who really would like to see me fail.

But that's the movie business. There's passion and then there's passion, I always disliked that term, I prefer stubborness, that's what drives me. Someone told me "never give up on your computer when it's broken, have the computer give up on you." And I follow that advice on everything.

It didn't work quite well on Travel Day, the movie I tried to finance in 2009 and there were a lot of reasons. But I haven't forgotten it, in fact sent it to a producer last month in Canada who might consider it.

Probably none of you have ever seen Ghostkeeper and for that I posted a 13  minute trailer in the Materials section here, it'll take you to a YouTube version that I edited some time ago and is basically a 13 minute version of the movie.

Have a look. Tell me what you think.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is this really gonna happen?

One of the constants in this business is; Am I gonna actually get to make this movie?". They say actors get the most rejections and this is evident in the speeches they make at any award ceremony. You'd think they found a cure for cancer.

And after that it could arguably be writers, given that their pitches and outlines and screenplays are more than often turned down than made. And sometimes even when the script is bought or optioned, it never gets made.

At least writers get turned down because of their writing, actors get turned down because of the way they look. For example I remember Melissa Leo (who won Best Supporting this year) from a series called Homicide back in 1993 and said to myself, she's not pretty but she's pretty damn good as an actor. And finally it paid off but it took years.

My friends are saying this Ghostkeeper windfall that seems to come to me without me even asking, is the fruit of the many years I've put into this business. And I admit it feels good to get some attention although Ghostkeeper isn't the story I'm burning to tell. You know that it's Emperor of Mars.

But somehow I feel I owe it to the old Ghostkeeper, because that movie led me to a pretty good 30 years, up and down to be sure, but always moving forward.

So why am I so worried that it'll all fall down.

Because that's the general rule. 

Even now, as I write the new proposal (which I'll post soon), there are moments when I wonder if it will really happen. That Catholic school part of me says that just when everything is going good... "you're gonna die". Or something like that.

And a director friend doesn't help when he says "Be careful crossing streets".

Age is definitely a factor, when I was 22 I would take any dare and expect to win every time. But years and a few accidents on mountain bikes and bad TV shows made me a little more mortal. Not to mention losing both parents over the last 10 years.

As someone once said, "you're next".

I have to admit that this Ghostkeeper remake is probably the most confident project I've had in years, the pieces are falling together faster than I can keep count. So what else can I worry about?

Well, what if one or more of the actors still alive, don't want to be in the movie or we can't find them anymore? The answer is simply "change the script". But one of the corners I'm putting myself in is this; if only one element changes, I could be stuck.

What can happen?

1. One or more of the actors can't/won't be in it. Having the 4 original actors in the movie is crucial.
2. The hotel decides not to give us the permission to film there.
3. There's no snow in that window of 6 weeks when the hotel closes for awhile.
4. We can't find all the funding in time.

Also I have written and directed 3 movies, and had complete freedom on all of them. Now, if we have a funding distributor, they're gonna want to be on set standing behind me all the time and watching those damn monitors.

But for now, I guess I am moving forward, because that's the only thing I know, never go backwards, you just tend to fall alot.

(Mon: new details)


Monday, March 7, 2011

Packaging Ghostkeeper

Okay, so I've now finished the screenplay for Ghostkeeper 2, although it seems that any reference to a "Sequel" is not advisable these days. Rather it's a "remake" which is a term that suggests that rather than a copy, it's a whole new movie. With remakes popular (True Grit being notably the best one), I'll go with whatever the distributor things is best.

Not that they always know.

Now I begin to create a package, which, if you read the first Travel Day blogs here, way back in August of 2009, will get a really good idea of what a package should have. Trouble is, I never found the funds necessary for Travel Day.

So why do I think I can get $$ this time?

Travel Day had two Oscar nominees interested in it and that helped alot. But it was a classic "indie" film, a character drama, often referred to as non-genre. It's not family, comedy, romcom (romantic comedy), action, horror or suspense-thriller. All of those are genres. Movies like Winter's Bone, 127 Days, Wendy and Lucy, these are not genre films.

And thus, not as appealing to the distributors.

In addition we had a first-time director in Shirley, who is perfectly capable of directing a feature, in fact more talented than most of the directors I know. But every first time director faces this challenge. The fact that she was a woman also makes it a little harder. In spite of changes in attitude and Kathryn Bigelow winning an Oscar for an action film last year, women still face what is still a man's world.

These objections are often overcome but in our case, it didn't help. Also, a major investor pulled out at the last minute as well, which was the biggest loss. And weather was key to the story so by early spring, it was simply too late to try to make Travel Day until winter came back. I am still committed to producing a feature for Shirley.

Now compare that to Ghostkeeper 2.

For one, I wrote and directed the 1980 Ghostkeeper and produced it through my own company, Badland Pictures. A budget of $650,00 was raised due to a Canadian tax shelter (note: not tax credit which is popular now in Canada and US). The tax shelter then was 100%, which meant that each of the 6 investors could write off their investment completely.

This tax credit was incredible for the Canadian film industry as it began building an real industry rather than just a handful of filmmakers struggling to find money. But, as with all good things, lawyers and accountants got into it and pretty soon a $5 million budget had $2 million going to the suits rather than the movie. So Canada cancelled it.

It lasted from 1975 to 1985 and I got my money in 1980 for Ghostkeeper.

It was also my first feature, after writing and directing scores of commercials and documentaries but the big reason for investors giving me money was that I had a great money-finder who was a born salesman. Something I'm not. That and the fact that it was a horror film and shot in winter. The tax shelter ended at the end of each year and so most of the money was raised around then as rich people realized they had to find some tax shelters.

So where does that put me now?

After 30 years, I have written or rewritten 18 movies and directed 3. There is also a small cult following for the movie, which began in Britain. I've had some offers to re-release the 1980 version but I didn't have a good copy. Somewhere along the way I lost track of the original 35mm prints and negs.

But in January, a distributor called me to say he found a 35mm print and wanted to distribute the 1980 film. I said yes. And now I have finished the screenplay and also did a full budget, 22 pages worth. This week I spend on a proposal outlining everything. You might want to go to the proposal we had for Travel Day, it's still posted on the left hand side of this page under Materials.

So far I also have two of the original actors, the original DP and the original PM, (Director of Photography & Production Manager). I need to find the other two actresses, Georgie Collins and Sherry McFadden, Georgie must be in her 80's and Sherry may have married. But they all are crucial to the story.

Another cast member was Les Kimber, actually a PM himself but he started in the business as an actor. Les passed away a few years ago. His photo will be in the new movie.

And lastly I have a distributor both for Ghostkeeper 1 and 2 as well as offers to distribute from Canada, France and Great Britain. If I can't raise money with all these elements I might as well quit. Well, maybe not quit.

So once again I launch into an impossible task, to get money from people who don't want to give me money and spend it on something that they don't want to spend on and won't see until it's finished.

(Thurs: Progress?)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lost a day...

Somehow I lost a day, and realized I missed my second post. Working hard on the budget for Ghostkeeper 2, which I hope to keep under $2 million which is realistic, considering that the first one cost $650,000 which with inflation is now about $1.7 million.

Lots more Monday.... things are happening.