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)


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