Over the last year or so, many events have deeply affected the way we live and the way we (have to) think about the world. Wars have been waged, diseases have struck, ecological disasters are becoming so common we are immune to their being reported and people have been moved to drastic actions in the name of "justice" and an alternative life in the hereafter. An awful lot of innocent people seem to have got in the way and have been disposed of without so much as a by your leave. And we seem to care less every day.
Nothing seems able to check, even momentarily, the devastation provoked by rampant, unbridled capitalism and the utilitarian ideological shortcuts it concocts in perfect synch with big business elite (Gore Vidal's old "mates") and the military. So against the backdrop of last ditch calls for a cancellation of the debt in the third world (the most pernicious weapon used to subjugate the vast majority of people on this earth) and the cries for the immediate implementation of 'sustainable development" as a new value system to replace 'I shop therefore I am' mentality injected in us intravenously in our eyeballs every waking minute of our lives, the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world in December 2012 appears as a rather liberating prospect. Even the Hopi Indians (who have stoically glued together the cracks in the fifth world through their rituals) are giving up.
Meanwhile, we go about our business in an almost permanent daze, as if the dust from 9/11 still hovers all around us and clouds our ability to think straight. We worry about worrying and we start to wonder, in unison with T.S. Eliot: 'where is the life we have lost in living!' Surely the Brazilian priest who specialised in performing 'last rites' on people on the threshold between worlds was right: 'you know, on the deathbed I have NEVER heard anybody say to me 'oh I wish I could just live a little longer because I really have to finish that document in the office.''
So, over the last year or so many people have stepped back and others have stepped out, realising that 'sustainable development' applies also to our daily lives. Perhaps it is possible to reduce our expectations and seek a more urgent and rewarding 'quality of life' over and above MORE cash, more stress, more hassle'
In this context, I tried to trace my life in the film business as an observer, a traveller in an attempt to assess whether, or rather, in what measure, it may have been worth it, but above all, whether, if indeed we do only have 9 years left, as it were, it would not be better to focus entirely on that elusive 'quality of life' principle'
Not being a rocket scientist, I noticed what everybody else seems to notice and that is the same devastation that surrounds us in the humdrum of the world on a daily basis. Clearly, there are no longer any certainties. Once upon a time we called them 'pay-TV deals' at the backend, German funds at the front, percentage values per territory, minimum guarantees based on the most laughable document of all 'sales projections!' Even further back in time I remember noble notions of 'honest accounting' and even 'meaningful net profits.'
Instead, what we find are ever creative ways of covering our ass, preferably designed to screw the next guy as we do so and we entrust the thrust of every aspect of our business to agents and lawyers so that the path toward the realisation of even the most beautiful and sensitive of projects is a Calvary of bad faith and worse karma. It would be useful, I thought that we should get together to create a tazebao of people's experiences (without naming names of course) and publish it with a Dante-esque warning at the front 'Beware all ye who enter here!' so that first time directors and producers would at least have a 'road map' and be able to choose at least in what position they may get screwed. As that idiot says 'make no mistake about it!' you WILL get screwed and some of the stories any of us can tell truly shock the 'general public' and confirm the reticence of investors to believe anything they hear from anybody about the film business.
The bodies of disgruntled and outraged investors litter the hallways of history and you don't have to read Sun Tzu to know that the only deal worth making is one that will secure repeat business and long term relationships!
At the same time, every one of us, from our own perspective has a great talent in constructing rationales to 'put in perspective' and justify to ourselves what it is that we are really doing to others. There are only rocks and hard places all around us and soon the only place we can go are les regles du jeu where each character has their reasons and one can agree, by and large, with Renoir, that nobody among us is really 'bad.'
Each event when replayed on a Brechtian 'final cut' suite can be seen from all these different angles and to survive, all you have to do is create an ever widening series of POV so that you have all your exits marked out before going in for the kill! A virus would be very offended to be called a virus, as it were; it's doing its job and attempting to survive, after all. In fact longevity in the film business is success enough!
The problem is that the rat cages have got so small and the margins are non existent, while expenses at EVERY stage have spiralled out of all proportion. There are pyramids of films stuck in litigation limbo: directors spend half their lives making films and the other half trying to get the rights back for their own work. Producers are 'guests' who work for the agents and the banks, often put even their salaries on the line to finish the film and are then not even able to select the film festival they feel may be useful for that first time director they 'believe in', let alone see any profits since the actors and if they are lucky, the investors, come first. By the same token sales agents have ten films that bomb for every one that works and even on that one they can't seem to get all the money they are owed once they have recovered their advance. Distributors have their complaints as well though lately, at least in Europe, they have received effective subsidies to share the risks involved and can plan ahead as long as they can command the theatres which increasingly show less films because the block busters take up all the space.
Video or rather DVD is like the final mirage but go down to any car boot sale or metro station and you pick up a copy for 3 euros of the film you had planned to go see with your mates that very night.
And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say.
And so the business (at last for the independents, which is the only quarter I am proud to know) is merrily going to hell. Ruby Keeler will keep looking for Dick Powell and Cannes will still be the place we all love to hate or hate to love, as the case may be.
But this year, as people come and people go, it may be worth all our whiles to consider a proposal that is offered humbly, simply, and attempting to include the frustrations of all the various elements in our collective machine. The aim is simply to attempt to bring back some TRANSPARENCY and some concrete meaning to the terms we will be weaving in the multitude of conversations in the next few days' We must all be so tired of the lies we trade and the castles in the air that we construct so as to give ourselves the conviction that we are actually DOING OUR BEST, even when, deep down we KNOW we are just trying to 'get past' the next guy'
It all started at the SCREEN INTERNATIONAL FINANCE SUMMIT prior to the Berlin Film Festival. Colin Brown contacted me to participate on a panel with a bunch of mates equally preoccupied with survival in the wake of Stewart Till's brilliant exposition of the state of things in his keynote speech. Peter Aalback stole the show, of course and put everyone in the right mood so although I was ready to recount the personal horrors of my own experiences I thought better of it. I had, after all, a business plan, a few directors that are 'family' and like minded producers to complete the circle.
So I pitched an earlier version of the model you will find below and set about trying to finance a 'new' (nothing is ever that, I know!) type of sales agency. One that would be owned by producers and directors together so as to control both the money that goes (all) on the screen and the income after so that responsibility and reward could be assumed without mediation.
This company is now a reality: BUENA ONDA FILMS was established in April 2003 with the financial and creative support of the INTERNATIONAL FILM COLLECTIVE.
Simon Channing-Williams of ThinMAN/Potboiler has joined me at the centre of the company and we are proud to be associated with FAME headed by Michael Downey and Sam Taylor with Stephen Daldry as Chairman, Paul Raphael's Starfield in the UK and with Amanda/Aquelarre Films in Spain and Fernando Meirelles' O2 Filmes from Brazil on a series of titles listed below. Since some of the films are either in-pre production or completing financing at the moment and are therefore not available for inclusion in our first EVENT we will be selling these in a conventional manner in Cannes 2003, together with the producers.
The full list of projects and directors will be announced later and we intend to discuss with festivals and markets where to hold our SALES EVENTS as well as discuss with other film makers representation of their work. One side of Buena Onda, as the name suggests, is focused on to one of the currently most vital geographical areas in film production: Latin America but we do hold a strong presence internationally and hope that replacing the predictable 'new' with the hopefully 'good' is an indication of our commitment to quality and a straight forward and serene way of conducting and promoting business.
These are the premises:
I figured that together with a drastic reduction in costs, a far more efficient process of decision making was necessary. Directors had to feel integrated in the communication of their 'vision' of the projects, Marketing should become a physiological and consistent part of the actualisation of that vision and become properly and seriously integrated in budgets. If it was truly possible to achieve TRANSPARENCY, 'profits' would become meaningful and budgets would stay closer to the ground so as to be fair (finally!) to the Investors. But also, by owning the gate keeping structure, the filmmakers would (be sure to) benefit as well. So would actors and so would agents (even!) as their talent would have more reliable schedules, better planning, probably better (but certainly more meaningful) backends'
To rationalise and render more efficient the process we would propose to attend four events per year and present previously unannounced projects in an innovative manner with directors and producers (with actors, musicians, crew members and multimedia) managing the presentations that could take place in a gallery or a car park or a hotel (or whatever they choose) and every time it will be different and, hopefully surprising. Before analysing all the other elements including budgets, schedules, cast, dates etc that would be made available ALL IN ONE go after the events, the buyers will have a chance to really come to grips with every aspect that makes a difference.
In this way directors would not be so distrustful of the 'agent' and the sales process and would think twice before blaming lack of performance on third parties, but they would also secure a more solid creative platform by 'directing' the vision of investors before they sit down to analyse the full proposal at hand. It would also be highly efficient, as everything would be in tune with a short sharp exposure to the market on the threshold of pre-production. Of course maybe it would not be for all directors, but for those that are self confident enough. Completely convinced by the timeliness and sense of purpose of their own ideas, or flamboyant enough to stun and surprise, they have a chance of directing an event where the 'extras' are indeed the people that make their vision possible. An irresistible mise en scene'
Distributors would be happy as their views would be important at the crucial moment and listened to, carefully. In some cases they may not have to shell out so much money, at least, they would be in the running from the start without risking bankruptcy and the fairness implicit in a pre ordained cut off point should ensure serenity of judgement without artificial conditioning. By the same token it will no longer be possible to argue that the film delivered 'is not the script I read' since the script will be only a (still very important) part of the evaluation criteria.
Producers would do what they are supposed to do best and that is 'produce' presentations (or EVENTS) that to all intents and purposes would be like the pre pre-production part of the movie and everyone would be quite clear on the 64,000 dollar question: 'what film are we making'' In addition, traditional ways of arranging 'variable geometries' of co-production and subsidies will of course stay in place so as to maximise the comfort for investors and render productions cost efficient.
The sales executives that will be part of the team which will be announced by the end of Cannes will obviously receive a salary but will also be able to diversify by being attached to the productions in a more symbiotic relationship with the directors and producers and will have other ways of securing incentives and bonuses.
In terms of costs, if we rationalise the time between presentation of projects and signature of presales or other forms of financing, we have no need to send anything out or even spend much time on the phone' Why don't we reduce travelling and select together appropriate markets where fully developed projects can be presented in a creative and comprehensive manner so that the assessment will still be done on elements and script (but also locations, background, samples, acted scenes, sample music, even t shirts and other paraphernalia etc) but AFTER the presentation on the part of the creative team who would be available for a few days on a territory by territory basis for further elucidation as the buyers study and make their 'bids''
By suggesting a ten day decision period and sticking with it to the letter we would create a fair system that would, in all likelihood, achieve the correct market value per territory for that film. There would be no 'asking price' as such, but certainly a 'reserve price' instead. The highest bidder secures an automatic 'first look' of the completed film if that territory remains unsold and the other bidders would be accorded a screening before the official premiere.
If you do not bid you will very likely lose the chance of taking that film. At the end of the day the choice would still rest with the producers and the investors, who have been gathered in the Production Fund that has pre approved the projects and would act as glorified gap financier on the basis of unsold territories and availability of equity.
So, for example if financiers and producers feel that more can be secured from a specific territory LATER, the Fund would instruct its sellers to hold and it would be up to the fund to increase its financial commitment to the film. By the same token the investors, in this scenario, will KNOW what the market can take and are not basing their criteria on meaningless 'sale projections'. That should mean that the cost of money will be reduced both because it will no longer be necessary to ask for absurd percentages over and beyond those 'sales figures' or charge high financing charges but also because the amount of time the money would be tied up is considerably shortened.
With the Fund acting as guarantor, Actors can be given dates and escrow can be immediately set up following the EVENT and the conclusions drawn in the decision period.
So apart from the key entity (i.e. overall value of the Production Fund being set up) which will be announced at a later date, the most important part of the process is and has been the setting up of an outside agency for Delivery and Collection.
We are in negotiations with established entities to harness this mother of all departments in our business so that we may arrive at a super partes agent that all distributors will recognise and which holds the most stringent requirements in the business. Once the Producers have satisfied that agent with one set of deliveries, the collection of money owed on delivery will be simplified.
We welcome comments and suggestions on www.buenaondafilms.com (the website is under construction but you can send emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org or even better at email@example.com). Our Cannes office is on the JACARANDA BLEU boat in the Old Port.
BUENA ONDA FILMS