Monday, June 30, 2014

Mix-ups and a little bit of hope

We received some good news late Friday on Ghostkeeper 2 in that one of those funding agencies will consider our proposal. While this is not a decision by any stretch, it is at the very least -- promising.

As with most government workings, there is a lot of paperwork, of which I have learned that the more paper you send the more important it seems to be. 

You also might wonder why the government seems to show up in every movie or TV series that is made in Canada. Or maybe you haven't as there's only a few readers from Canada on this blog, most likely friends or family.  Probably mostly friends.

The answer is simple; Canada has no real film industry and this is due to the fact there are no studios like Paramount or Universal. All we have is a handful of production companies who weave foreign films among obscure Canadian films that never get shown anywhere because they really aren't very good.

But there's always Quebec.

Quebec, one of Canada's provinces, is all French, even their first language is French, everything is written in French. Okay, there is English but it is referred to the "2nd Language".

French-Canadian filmmakers make good movies, they even win oscars as "foreign films" because they're mostly French.

So why do they make good movies?

I think it's because the French Canadians have a very strong idea of who they are. I've always said that English Canadians (which includes every ethnic group other than French) don't really know if they're British or American.

So why do I knock my own brothers and sisters of film?

Because they make bad movies.

I know because I made bad movies. And nobody liked my screenplays. They said I was "too American". So I moved to America and guess what?

They liked my scripts. They even paid for them. At least 35 scripts, of which around 19 were finally made.

But there once were good English Canadian films. But those were made during the "tax credit days". 

Those days were from 1975 to 1985 more or less. This was when an investor could put $200,000 into a movie and write it off as taxes. One investor for Ghostkeeper 1980 did exactly that.

Suddenly we began to get some good movies and some that made lots of money. There was a teen comedy, Porky's, that made $100 million. There was also The Silent Partner, with Eliott Gould, and Black Christmas and the memorable Christmas Story which still plays 24 hours on Christmas Day.

There was also The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz with Richard Dreyfuss. Also Videodrome and Scanners from David Cronenberg. How about Meatballs that made Bill Murray a star. And of course my friend's movie The Grey Fox. And again some great films from Quebec.

So why were they so good, or at least not bad?

Yes, Americans came to Canada in the form of movie stars, except Donald Sutherland who seemed to be in almost every movie in that time.  But they also came as technicians and cameramen and in a strange way, created the real movie crew as per American standards.

But the tax credit was soon to die as lawyers and accountants began taking lots of money from the bank and that soon spoiled everything for everybody and after 10 years, the government told the crooks that the tax credit is over.

And then Canadian writers and directors had to go back to movies that nobody wants to see.

But the Canadian crews are now some of the best crews around. So at least something came of those 10 years. But the movies sadly still don't make the grade.

Friday, June 27, 2014


This certainly is the year of remakes and remakes of remakes (Godzilla for one) and I'm not even mentioning Transformers, although LA Times reviews it as very good even though it's almost three hours of crunching transformers and Mark Wahlberg.

But the one that caught me with the question "why?" is a film opening in L.A. called Begin Again. It's about a loser guy who meets a lonely girl singer who he figures he can make into a star.

Sound familiar?

Do you remember a movie called "Once", about an Irish guitar busker who meets a woman from Eastern Europe who plays magnificent piano? You know, the movie made for almost nothing that won Best Song for the movie and they played it at the Oscars.

Now you remember? Here's the poster.

 So if it wasn't enough, the writer/director of Once, John Carney, had a shot at doing the same movie over again but this time with big movie stars.

Well, Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley are sort of stars. Ruffalo isn't all that bad but I still can't figure out why Keira Knightley has a career at all. Just compare the both of these to the original movie.

What made the original movie is that the stars of that movie were real, they really were "undiscovered" and that was what made Once a good movie. 

But with the Hollywood version of Keira and Ruffalo, it's harder to believe that they're broke and poor and starving. The reviews have not been kind even if the ad in the paper says "Songs from Keira Knightley".

I can't wait.

Okay, I know, they made a movie and I'm just envious. Maybe a little, but not because it's a good movie, just because they got to make a movie and movies are hard to make. 

And I'm sure someone approached approached John and said he could make a bunch of money by doing "the American version". Eh?

Still, I don't think there'll be Oscars for Begin Again next year.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Funding Ghostkeeper -- "How low can you go?"

I'm hoping some of you stay with these notes on financing a movie, some might ask what this has to do with writing, but since I'm more of a "filmmaker" than a writer, I think that the future is going to be like this.

Anyways, back to GKPR2, and the different ways to fund it. 

Right now we are hoping to get under the cover of Telefilm, a movie financing part of the Canadian government, which helps filmmakers get their movies made. Telefilm can give a production up to 49% but to a maximum of $500,000. This funding comes directly from the government because Canada doesn't really have a big studio system like the U.S. does.

So, lets say that we get $500k (although it would probably be less), that leaves us with $1,100,000 so that means we have to find that money. Another part of the funding would be 30% of the budget coming from Alberta, which also has it's govt funding.

This funding is comparable to all the states in the U.S. offering tax credits and so we get 30% tax credits from the province, totalling (at the best) $480,000.

So just from Federal and Provincial govts in Canada we have almost $1 million. This, of course is a dream amount but you get the idea.

That leaves us with about $600,000. 

There's another provincial funding agency and that's the fact that Alberta pays no sales tax. Where does that come in? Well, film productions have to buy lots of things, props, clothing, food, etc. etc. and that comes in for a good 7-8 % and that combined with the exchange rate can close up a small but valuable gap.

But it leaves us with around $400,000 to find elsewhere. Here, our sources would come from Pay TV or network or even a small amount of theatrical potential.

And if it doesn't work --

Then we go back to the basics, a low budget movie of maybe $400,000 in total. But with this we probably couldn't film in Alberta because their labor union is difficult to work with and rather than argue that, I would just probably shoot in Vancouver where it's a lot easier. 

But the industry is changing greatly, smaller crews and technology that makes any production go faster. I always like to refer to Ed Burns who made Newlyweds for $9000!

My last produced movie, The Town Christmas Forgot, was made for $1 million and was done in 12 days, which is remarkable, but is becoming the reality.

So there we are; 

The hardest part of this is that our movie can be made anywhere with any assistance, it all comes down to finding the best deal. All crews are okay, union or not, the films get made regardless of how much people are paid.

From here, I will continue to post blogs about the progress as well as other stories that I might find interesting for you.  I also have a FB page for Ghostkeeper 2 that you might want to have a look at.


Friday, June 20, 2014

The cost of Ghostkeeper 2

Now that we're attempting to fund GKPR 2, the discussion of how much should the movie cost. In other words, how much should we budget for the movie. Let's go back to the beginning;

The original GKPR cost around $650,000 way back in 1980. This was a union shoot in that we used the Director's Guild rates and the IATSE rates. IATSE is the other union and the letters stand for International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and they cover the majority of the crew. At that time I belonged to the DGC (Director's Guild of Canada) and WGC (Writer's Guild of Canada).


And I haven't mentioned the actor's guild which in Canada is ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists.) It's SAG in the U.S. (Screen Actor's Guild).

So, that's a union shoot, otherwise a producer can make a movie without any of the union members if the budget is low. Often members of unions will take a non-union shoot just to make some money rather than stay home. This is frowned upon of course, but more and more, it's happening in both the U.S. and Canada.

Now for GKPR 2.

The budget we have for the new version of GKPR is approximately $2 million dollars. 

For the same movie!

What happened?

Well, it's the cost of living. GKPR 1 cost $650k but translated into the value of a dollar today it comes out to just over $2 million.  So what does this mean?

You were making a good wage of around $4/hr in 1980 but today the minimum wage is around $11/hr and certainly not even close to a good wage.

But trying to fund a movie for $2 million is difficult because too many movies now are being made for far less due to technical advances in the way of digital filmmaking. One well-known filmmaker, Ed Burns, made a movie for $9000. 

Nine thousand dollars!

Okay, it didn't have special effects nor a big cast but he made it and it's a good movie. It's called Newlyweds, and you should see it. He used actors, a cameraman, an editor and that's about it. 

So where did we decide to go in terms of cost?

How about $1.6 million.

You're probably getting really confused. Why $1.6?

We, being myself and producer Joe Thornton had a few disagreements as to how much the film should cost; I wanted it under $1 million and Joe felt it should be more. We finally settled on $1.6 million for specific reasons.

I thought I'd give you a little rest from all these numbers, so I'll continue the frustrations of funding a movie and what it will cost and why.

Have a good weekend.

And thanks to the Ukrainian readers of this blog; I hope it gives you some insight into my Canadian/American life.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Selling Ghostkeeper 2

I thought I should give you some ideas as to how I and my partner in Canada are attempting to raise funding for Ghost Keeper 2, the sequel to my 1980 Ghostkeeper. The card above is what I'm initially using to email to every distributor that I can find, including several I already know.

The information above is about as tight as I can get in a card form. In it I go back to GKPR 1 and then add GKPR 2, followed by the financing information. I also include a full page version and an even fuller 19 pages for those readers who want to know more. I didn't include these in this blog mostly because it's too much text to read.

You'll notice above that I changed titles from Ghostkeeper 1 to the sequel Ghost Keeper 2. The reason for this was that I discovered a rock band fronted by a musician who's name was actually Ghostkeeper. This caused a lot of confusion when googling the movie so I decided to split the word into two words - thus Ghost Keeper.

I'll go over this for those of you who are new to the blog (yes, there are new readers in spite of the 40 followers. FYI there are anywhere from 150 up to 300 or so who drift in a and out. Anyways; 

What we're looking for at this stage are a few distributors who might  be interested in selling Gkpr 2 after it's made. Normally a distributor will write a letter saying they might be interested in selling the movie or that they want to sell the movie. 

At this point all that's needed is a letter. It's not really hard to get a letter saying that they "might" want to distribute a film but it's a little harder actually getting a distrib to sell the film.

Distributors always ask for impossible elements; meaning big name stars. Well, that's not gonna happen with GKPR 2, although we do have a very viable name actor who just might do a small role. More on him later.

And Tom Cruise isn't going to do GKPR 2 even though distibutors seem to think he and other major stars will happily go into any movie.

What I have to convince the distribs is that GKPR 1 had a resurgance a few years ago which ended up in a 30th Anniversary DVD made from the actual 35mm print and had added "extras" such as commentary with the two principal actors and myself.

In addition, there was a great extra featuring the "Ghostkeeper" herself, a wonderful actress named Georgie Collins who at 86, talks about the movie. There's also an extra with DP John Holbrook, who shot GKPR 1.

So, with those elements above and video trailers that you can see in the Materials box on the left side of this blog, you can get a bit of what it takes to find the money to make the movie.

We do have a better chance than beginners, but I'm also wary about funding as I really got killed in that Kickstarter episode last year. This time we're going to the people who do fund movies. Our fan base is modest to say the most but you don't get to make a movie by sitting around and hoping.

I'm going to be working on GKPR 2 as my primary job, at least until I have to do a rewrite on another project I wrote for an actor.

 The movie would be filmed in Alberta Canada as was the original and the schedule would be around the end of November, 2014 with a finished film sometime in late January.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Only words on a page

For those out of the USA and Canada, there is a weekly Sunday show on CBS-TV that features several different stories about people and things. They usually include a celebrity and this past Sunday it was Minnie Driver, the actress.

When the inteviewer asked her how she works, Minnie refers to the screenplay as;

 "Words on a page".

And it's up to her to figure out how to play it.

Words on a page.

I wonder what she would do if there weren't words on a page.

And what if those "words on a page" tell the story, and that a writer like me could say "she's only the person who memorizes and reads those words?"

Okay, so I'm a little bit ticked off. When I read a book, they aren't just words on a page, instead they give me a feeling of what the author wrote and how to imagine it in my own mind. 

Same thing for a screenplay; those words are what make up part of the story; with the other part being the action. In short, those words tell her not only what to say but what to do.

Actors are funny people; they pretend to be other people in order to make a living. I even have actor friends, although they're almost always complaining about the roles they didn't get.

Actor joke: How many actors do you have to have to replace a lightbulb?

Answer: Two, one to replace it and another to say they could have done it better.

Okay, so I'm being a little hard on actors and this goes back to the Greeks, who invented drama or at least as far as we know, they wrote specific stories and plays about murder, greed, betrayal, love, hate and all that stuff.

And yes, with actors.

It's a love/hate thing with writers and actors, I've had my share of arguments but nothing really bad. My biggest problems were usually with producers and sometimes, directors.

Director joke; Why doesn't a director like to have a writer on the set?
Answer: Because the writer is the only one who know's they're faking it.

How about a joke about producers: "We love the screenplay, but who can we get to rewrite it?"

It goes on and on in the battles between actors and writers and directors and producers and mostly, it works out fine somehow.

And I'm sure Minnie didn't really mean that she was totally responsible for the words, that someone else wrote them and those same words were at least half of her portrayal in Good Will Hunting where she was nominated for an Academy Award.

And who is it that actors often thank the most, especially in TV?


So, as director Norman Jewison said after Cher won an Oscar on a movie he directed,  and thanked her hair dresser; "At least she didn't do it all by herself."

Monday, June 2, 2014

I'm still here

I haven't posted anything for the past week or so due to some family stuff, mainly my brother who was working for a newspaper in Bangkok decided it was time to get out after the army took over the country. Being nice Canadian boys, we never really experienced the real effects of what goes on in Thailand. The worst scandal in Canada was when a recent Prime Minister got a pass for free golf.

So the first thing we did was to do a desert trip which always cleans my heart and soul. The Mojave desert that stretches through a large part of California is quite a piece of land; among it's grounds is Death Valley which arguably boasts to have the heat record of around 134 degrees. 

Oddly enough the desert makes me feel closer to the great plains of Canada, wide open spaces where, as the farmers says, you can see tomorrow's weather.

But there is another hitch to the Mojave; a police officer said that if all the people in American who were murdered stood up, that half of them would be in the Mojave.

Not a comforting thought.

Still, the desert grabs you in a way that's hard to explain; while most of the life there consists of Joshua trees and creosote (a tangled tough scrub-brush), there are the other species, desert tortoises, coyotes, rattle snakes and other little creatures that you rarely see. 

Where all these creatures seem to appear is usually early morning and early evening when the immensity of the desert becomes apparent.

Nothing better than watching the sun set over the Mojave.

The Mojave is divided into two deserts actually, the high desert and the low desert, high meaning around 2500 feet in altitude and the low being below ocean level.

So it was the perfect place for my brother to wind down, and for me as well as I continue to look for money to make movies, it all comes around, I guess.

By the way, the photos are all mine.

More on Friday. Thanks for hanging in.