Dossier industrie: Directors Talk II, Berlinale World Cinema Fund Day
Étude de cas: The Future de Miranda July
- Étude de cas sur The Future , le nouveau film de l'Américaine Miranda July, présentée au marché du film de Berlin en février 2011. Ce deuxième long métrage de la jeune réalisatrice est une coproduction entre l'Allemagne et les États-Unis. À Berlin, les producteurs du film ont raconté comment est née cette collaboration entre deux pays et deux systèmes de production si profondément différents.
Cet article est disponible en anglais.
Case Study: The Future by Miranda July
The German Way of an American Indie
With Gina Kwon (producer, USA), Roman Paul (Razor Film, Germany), Gerhard Meixner (Razor Film, Germany), Michael Weber (The Match Factory, Germany)
Moderator: Amra Baksic Camo
in cooperation with Cineuropa.org
Miranda July’s Competition film is – just like her first feature - a truly American Indie. How did US Indie filmmakers like her and her producer come to work with German partners? What were the obstacles they had to put up with in order to make this co-production work? What were the options compared to European co-productions? How did the very different US and European financing systems and production structures go together? And how does the success of Me and You and Everyone We Know influence the sales strategy for The Future? Amra Baksic Camo: I’m really happy that today I’m here to present The Future. The Future is a film by Miranda July, screenwriter and director, and it is our opportunity to discuss a little bit this new American-European way of co-producing because it is very recent.
In terms of festivals, it has been presented at Sundance in competition and is coming to Berlin to be presented in competition. With us we have three producers of the film: Gina [Kwon] from the States, and Roman [Paul] and Gerhard [Meixner] from Germany.
We should try to investigate how this American-German co-production happened. We are not talking about a big American film shot in Germany, but an independent American production that was also co-produced by German co-producers.
So, my first question actually goes a little bit back in time and it’s for Gina. It’s about the first film by Miranda. Was it easier to make a second film or was it more difficult in a sense?
Gina Kwon: Actually, the first one was surprisingly easy to finance just because Miranda and I started working together in 2003 and we went to the IFP [Independent Filmmaker Project] New Borders Co-production Market. There, we met Film4’s Peter Carlton and IFC’s [Independent Film Channel] Holly Becker, so those were the two companies that started financing our film.
That was in September and they basically had agreed to finance the film by, I think, March of the following year. So as that goes, taking into account that it was her first film as a director, it was actually surprisingly painless. We went to a lot of companies and got a lot of rejections, of course, but the actual process was pretty quick.
And then on this film there were immediately people interested in financing, definitely, so that part wasn’t difficult. It didn’t feel like “Oh no! No one is going to want to finance a second movie”.
It took a long time, though, both the process of writing the script for Miranda and also of piecing together the right partners. It just took longer, also 2008 was a bad year, it was just not an easy time to get films financed.
Amra: How did you meet Roman and Gerhard?
Gina: I met Roman actually when he was at Celluloid Dreams. He was an acquisitions executive and he was one of the first people we pitched. He was very supportive within Celluloid Dreams. So when IFC came on board, Celluloid became our world sales company, so we met a long time ago.
He was in town for the Academy Awards in 2009 when he first talked about this way of financing films piecing together co-productions. But we had a long-standing relationship with him.
Amra (to Roman Paul): Maybe you want to give your version of the story?
Roman Paul: It’s pretty close to that. I didn’t know those guys and it was in Sundance where I was introduced to them in a coffee bar. I think it was kind of random, but they were very nice and funny people, so when I flew back home I read the screenplay and I immediately liked it and we wrote a letter of intent and they financed the film. Then, the film was finished and went to Sundance and to Cannes, where we won the Camera d’Or.
After that we didn’t hear from each other for a while. Then Miranda’s husband came to Berlin and got a little lost…and this is, in a way, how we reconnected. It was a bit weird, but life is full of coincidences. Then we met in LA. I think the situation was that we had lost an investor and you had lost the same investor at the same time, so we were both “screwed”. We sat down and said “Ok, let’s try, let’s give it a shot and see where this takes us and you sent us the script, which was at that time called Satisfaction, and we immediately liked it and started to put together a plan for financing.
Amra: I would like to talk a little bit now about the sources for both sides – where the money came from. And the most interesting part: what are the problems that you encountered on the way, even in terms of the unions that we discussed previously?
Gina: For the financing part?
Amra (to Gina): Yes, from the American side first.
Gina: We started with the idea that Roman could apply for the German funds, like the regional funds and the federal funds as well. And there would be some aspects of the co-production, like we would maybe do post-production in Germany, bringing German crew.
It was something I had never really [seen], no other producer in a low budget film engaged in that process, so it was a bit daunting because I had no idea if that would be a nightmare. It wasn’t familiar to me, so we talked through the different steps.
The idea initially was to raise some money and we were working with the UTA [United Talent Agency]. We went to a lot of companies, but at some point in 2009 we just decided it was just taking too long and I think that’s when I decided to slash the budget.
At some point of the process I realised, “Oh wow, you really need a good European producer on the ground if you’re doing a co-production, whether it’s in France, Germany or the UK”. You want to have someone that really can navigate the process, I mean, all the legal [stuff we] went through, we were able to do one contract with Razor Film and then they were able to sort of secure all the financing and it simplified the process, because for me to explain to both our lawyers and the UTA how complicated the financing was for such a small film…they were just rolling their eyes because it was too much. But it made it much easier the fact that we were just dealing with Razor Film and they could organise all the sources of financing.
Roman: Yeah, that’s what we actually did. We decided in a financing strategy how to put together the money for the budget from all kinds of European sources.
I think our first step was to find a sales agent. We sent the script to Michael Weber from The Match Factory, who loved it from the first minute as well and decided to put a minimum guarantee and enable us also to approach the German fund, the Medienboard, which is the local Berlin fund. Because if you don’t have any sales strategy, TV channel, distributor or world sales company you don’t get any funding from this fund. So that was one really important step that we made, to have The Match Factory with us.
And then, from previous films we had a kind of network that we built up before with companies in France and in the UK or in other countries. We approached them with the script and tried to get them on board.
But it had to make sense, of course, we didn’t want to complicate the structure of the co-production too much because, then, we would have had to have elements from different territories. We know how complicated that can get from other experiences as well. If you have seven co-producers from seven European countries, it’s not easy.
So we decided we’d rather go for pre-sales, which we did for France with Haut et Court, a very good distributor in Paris, and with Film4 in the UK, with which Gina had a good relationship from Me and You [Me and You and Everyone We Know, July’s debut feature] already and we knew them as well from earlier years.
So that’s mainly how we put together the structure of the financing ,with those three sources and the Berlin Fund and equity money that we had in the company.
Amra: Putting the funds together and then shooting in the States with a partly German crew and signing all the contracts – how did that work out? Which are the problems you encountered in terms of legal issues and an operational O-1 [US work visa]?
Roman: First things first. First, you need a visa for the States, which is not that easy. I found that it was a bit of a thriller because if you don’t have the visa, you just cannot go and you cannot make the movie. The way it worked is I got an O-1 visa and the DoP, the make-up artist, the sound mixer…they got O-2 visas through me. The visa application process was handled by Gina and a special lawyer who deals only with visas. That was quite a trip because you cannot be sure until very shortly before the shoot if they are going to say “yes”…or not. So that’s a risk and it’s a bit of an uncontrollable risk.
Gerhard Meixner: Just before, of course, if we want to touch the money of the Berlin fund – it’s a regional fund and it requires spending as well – we have to spend money here in the origin and also by adding local team to the crew, which is why we needed the visas afterwards.
There are a few requirements for co-productions when you have public money from Germany. One is the regional money: for every euro you get you have to spend €1.50 in the origin, you can do that [though] post-production, crewmembers, all kind of equipment, rentals… The other requirement is that if you want to have a [German] certificate of origin for the film, that you need for the equity that we had, and also for the Berlin Fund, you have to structure the shoot, the whole co-production, in a way that, for example, you have to have key crewmembers in the team that reflect the financing that you put in from the German side. It’s quite complicated to explain.
Gina: The percentage of German crew has to reflect the percentage of German money.
Amra: That means that you had a DoP, a sound engineer, editor…?
Gerhard: No, sound mixer, editor and makeup artist. And also, I think I was hired by you, right, Gina? Yes, I was hired by Gina, so…
Most people, when you ask around, they are like “Oh no, we shot there without a visa, are you guys crazy? Just walk in and shoot the film”, which would not have been a very smart idea because shooting in LA is not exactly like shooting in Nebraska. As we found out as soon as the cameras started rolling under very, very close events. In America the centre of attention are small independent productions; this is something that we would find out as soon as production itself started.
But, there was another pitfall. When you are doing an international co-production like that outside of the European Union with a currency that basically runs the world market, you are highly exposed to the volatility of the currency markets. And we were really in the mid of pre-production when the euro dropped by almost 30 cents in relation to the dollar, which is actually a major problem if you have raised all your money in euros.
Gina: And also the insurance, because you can insure against these things, but the actual differential, the cost of the entrance of our low budget, it was more than really a big drop in the euros so that wouldn’t have really helped us, it would have been even worse.
[Question from the audience about how much they had after the drop of the euro.]
Gerhard: No budget, actually, we can’t disclose the budget right now but you can say it was not a luxury budget so, still kind of independent, like we do it in Europe. Maybe you can judge from the shooting days: we had 21 days of shooting, so… I think you can imagine more or less….
Amra: The question of unions was mentioned more than once in your experiences.
Gina:Just to tell you exactly. We ran into problems initially with SAG [Screen Actors Guild] because we were doing our signature and paperwork and they wanted certain security agreements to be signed by the raiser and because it was an international production. You know, SAG is very serious about not only their actors getting paid in a timely manner, but also about residuals. Just one warning to producers like you, even though you have a Collection Account Management Agreement [CAMA] in place, they also still hold over you the fact that if your money is coming, for example, from MG from France, they consider that as distribution revenues and actually want to set aside residuals out of France. Even though you’re planning to using that for your budget, they would treat that as revenues, so it just got very complicated.
We had to work with lawyers because they were threatening to not allow actors to show up on the set the first day. We started the paperwork a month in advance because I knew that it would take time with SAG, and we kept checking with them that everything was fine… But, of course, this issue came up the week before. So, just be warned with SAG, any problems that you have, you should always, once that they come up, count at least three weeks in advance.
Truthfully, we are still working out the final details with them, but we got to a point where they just basically allowed us to start shooting.
I think it helped that we had the law firm that represents The Match Factory as well as Miranda, because they had a special union person who is still dealing with the Union. They have a good relationship with them, so maybe a call from them convinced [SAG] that all the parties will eventually sign the CAMA and at least we could start shooting our movie.
Gerhard: In any case, if you plan to do such a co-production with the US from a European basis, be aware that all the contractual things get really complicated. That’s something I actually underestimated. Before shooting I think we had like four lawyers working on the film. One that Gina hired for the production in LA; we had a German lawyer; we added an LA-based lawyer to deal with SAG and the collection agent; and the UTA’s law firm who worked for The Match Factory and the UTA. Which was good in a way.
I think I’d never seen so many agreements before. Of course, we had to cash flow all the financing and we worked with a very supportive state-owned bank here in Germany, but [we were] dealing with security agreements from SAG, with production finance agreements from Film4, irrevocable payment requests…all kind of agreements I had no idea they even existed. So, that was very, very complicated and still is in a way, and it’s getting very expensive too with all the lawyers working for you.
Roman: It sounds more relaxed that it actually is. Because what’s happening is very dramatic and ridiculous. We had heard before, “the Unions are difficult, the Unions are difficult”, but you don’t really know what that means. I had in my mind that the centre of the capitalist world is the United States of America, so I underestimated the power that unions have in that field of work. I felt like Russia is nothing [compared] to that!
It was impressive. At the beginning of shooting I had planned to go over there…via the Miami Film Festival, so that they would pay for the flight, we worried so much about the budget…. I missed that flight by five minutes, the only flight I’ve ever missed in my life, and American Airlines was not really helpful rebooking and I just said, “Then, I’ll go directly to LA”. And it was like, “Wow, I’ve just paid for the flight to LA and boarded the plain right away”. It was very exciting! But then we got there and the shooting wouldn’t start and I would not find myself on the set at all, but in an office with an elderly lawyer who got very nervous.
It was like they give you deadlines: “If you don’t sign this in 60 minutes, we will shut down your set”. And the time difference, language differences and the like are ignored. I had the impression that this basically would end in Orange County. Besides, they didn’t know who we were, you know: “Where do these people come from shooting a movie here? What’s the situation?”
It was a relief that, after a while, these phone calls were made and shooting went on without any further threats. But at the beginning it was very dramatic and it is a very weird and somehow not really understandable situation because you think, “Is she calling and saying they’re going to close the set in 60 minutes?” It’s like, “What is this about?” You want to laugh, but you think, “No, this is about me, so it’s not that funny actually”.
Be prepared to find yourself in a very weird mix of emotions and drama and… someone else is shooting a film in the back, you know, you should better be well prepared. But, Gina was doing a great job still fighting with unions on the set because there were some guys who were more hands-on, because the unions are very sophisticated, they just deal with phones and lawyers and it’s all quite abstract, but it got very concrete….
Gina: Roman is referring to that we had IATSE show up too on set the first day of shooting. I really think that SAG, when they had problems with us, tipped off IATSE. It’s not that they couldn’t have found other ways, but I’d actually heard these other people involved with our film that have a theory that that’s what happened.
It’s SAG but also IATSE, which basically employs most of the people on your production and we hadn’t signed a deal with them because we were super low budget and we thought, “Well, let’s see if we can not sign the deal with them”. But, of course, that didn’t work out for us.
It was obviously not ideal, but I feel like Miranda was isolated from the things we were dealing with. In the end, we had to sign the deal with IATSE as well.
In retrospect, as far as European co-productions go, the thing is, if you are shooting in the US you pretty much have a certain budget level. I mean, I think they’re going after smaller and smaller films, so we think that if your movie is in the vicinity of a million, a million-two US [dollars], you have to think about whether you want to make a deal with IATSE as well. It’s hard at that budget level, but they now have those super, super low-budget deals which cost you zero euros. It’s an unofficial deal that they have, but you can basically negotiate to pay pension [plus] welfare, which is what they really care about most, but not rates. You don’t lock into specific rates for the different crewmembers.
Anyway, if you need to bring in a European crew you have to hire an immigration lawyer, which we did in this way: we had Roman as the O-1 [the primary visa holder] and then the O-2 with all the different crewmembers. The idea is that they worked with him often, they started this production and it was absolutely imperative to bring them into the country to finish. Because when you apply for a visa they have to approve the exposition, they actually go not only through the immigration office but the New York office; that union has to approve each crewmember. So, we were able to do it that way with this O-1 and O-2 combination, but you have to think about how to bring in those crewmembers. It worked in this case, but I can’t say that it will always work.
So far, when I’ve tried to bring in foreign crewmembers it has always worked. In another film we brought in Chuy Chávez from Mexico and we applied for an O-1. For an O-1 visa, you need to employ someone for his extraordinary abilities, so they need awards, significant letters of recommendation, articles… They need to show that they have an extraordinary ability and that there is no one else that can do this movie. So, with a lot of the crewmembers, though they were all distinguished, it was difficult to pass that bar, so that’s why we did it that way.
But you have to work with a good lawyer to figure out exactly how you are going to get those visas. It’s easier if you say that you started shooting in Europe, because then you can say, “Well, all these people have to come in, there’s continuity, you need to bring them in”. Or you can decide that each person has an extraordinary ability and apply for a O-1 for each one.
Amra: Did you ever consider shooting in Europe?
Gina: Did we? No.
Roman: Not seriously, but there were people who said, “Oh why don’t you just shoot in London or in Berlin”. But we pretty much agreed that this film [speaks] to the world, but it’s very clearly set in Los Angeles, California. If you take it out of that culture, it becomes like something to drink without any taste, so it needs the local flavour and it definitely has the local flavour, which is quintessential. That is something that you really cannot compromise too much as a producer, but you have to take it as a challenge and then overcome it because, otherwise, you end up with a product that is lame.
Amra: Most of the post-production was done in Germany? Or everything was done in Germany?
Gerhard: Most of the post-production was done here in Berlin, also to trigger the necessary spending for the Berlin Fund. To make it a bit easier we did some part of the VFX [visual effects] in LA and then moved the whole post-production to Berlin and continued with the VFX. Also, [in this] there are differences in both countries, it sounds so easy in this world with Internet, where we can use the same phones everywhere we are. But there are differences in software that are not easily transferable…. You learn a lot on this process. For example, what “debearing” is or something like that, I actually forgot again, we looked at that in Wikipedia, whatever it was, it was a problem. It’s decompressing something that has been compressed somewhere else…
So, at one moment, we sent back high-resolution QuickTime files from LA to Berlin, to our post-production facility here, and everything went really slow because of the “debearing” mainly, because we had different results than the ones they had in LA. So, at one moment, we were pretty late already and we decided that we had to have the VFX supervisor fly from LA to Berlin to make things fast and easier. Happily, Grant [Keiner], who did that, was ready to come the next day. We thought that he would stay a week maximum, but in the end it was more than two weeks and he worked 24 hours a day for these two weeks.
So there are some more issues in post-production definitely that you need to take care of in advance.
But the process was a digital process with the printing of the negatives in the end, which went really well, without problems. We had problems with the subtitling but that was mainly because of the subtitling company we chose.
It all happened between the end of last year and the beginning of this year. Miranda came over as well to supervise the process. That’s mainly the post-production part.
Roman: Then comes the next step. Michael Weber cannot be here now because he had a problem in the building across the street, so Michael said we should take over a bit his part because we are very close to him and his work, of course. Michael Weber has The Match Factory, probably one of the most prolific sales companies, and he came on board at the beginning of the project. We’d been working with him before very successfully on other projects and we know that he’s a very reliable partner who is well-financed and who you can really work with also in terms of production itself. When you have needs you can talk to him, which is really good.
So, Michael stepped up and presented the project to the market quite early in a very traditional way: this is a key image, this is the title. Miranda had changed the title from Satisfaction because we read that Sharon Stone would have a new movie called Satisfaction, so we thought, “We are not going to compete with Sharon Stone and Mike Yeager”, and then she came up with The Future. It was sold under this title and Michael did a pre-sale to Belgium and to France.
When the film was finished we had to decide which festivals to go to. We have a very special case here: The film isn’t only American, though the artist is American and it’s set in America, but then it’s also somehow really European, so it’s kind of both at the same time. How do you reconcile those seemingly contradictive facts in terms of festivals? That was a big challenge for us, because festivals start competing more and more with each other and we were very, very happy that Sundance and the Berlinale were understanding of our special situation and were talking to each other and made it possible for the film to premiere in Sundance in the premiere section and go to competition here in Berlin, which was an exception to the rule [that] we really, really appreciate.
However, this also reflects the situation which we are in. It’s weird that the world really finally gets closer and closer, at least in some parts, to each other, but then you feel sometimes there are other forces which actually want to make it really national in one aspect. It doesn’t work any more. Sundance and Berlinale are modern enough to understand that and [John] Cooper and Dieter Kosslick were very, very helpful in that respect.
Besides, the sales part was divided because North American rights were being dealt by UTA, and the rest of the world by The Match Factory. So, as producers, you also have to see that those two parts are happy, talk to each other, cooperate, etc. I found that it’s a really different system, the way the States works and the way we work.
Gina: Basically, for the US we hadn’t secured distribution yet for the film, so UTA was in a helping position, so we can secure North American sales. So for them it was a question whether to premiere the film at the Berlinale, where they can secure the right distributor. There was a discussion back and forth not only between UTA and the Match Factory, but also between John Cooper and Dieter. Finally, they came down to the fact that Miranda is an American filmmaker. For American filmmakers there is no better way to launch a film into the consciousness of the States than by having a premiere at Sundance, especially since Sundance had premiered her first film.
There was a lot of cooperation ultimately between Dieter and Cooper to figure out how can we make everyone happy. Then to The Match Factory it was very important…that we could be in competition here. I think we worked out a great solution and the film was really well received at Sundance and we got a lot of great press.
I think both sides had won, because for a while there was a lot of tension about where to premier. We felt like not premiering in Sundance could be really hard in terms of not having that press coming out of the festival. And finally it worked out really well and it is also exciting to be here. I think it’s going to be great for the film and for Michael.
Roman: The other advantage is having two premieres, one in Sundance, and we are having another one on Tuesday here, which is great of course.
Amra: You just mentioned the position of the American indie in Europe, promoting for you as a project, what was the approach? Because usually in Germany you have of course big studio films coming from America, was it a difference for you?
Roman: Miranda had kind of a fan base here, since she is a very prolific artist, she is not only a filmmaker but she is also a writer who has a very successful collection of short stories being published worldwide and it’s a very good call and…[to Miranda] no one belongs here more than you.
It was very successful in Germany and the first film did OK in Germany, but it’s doing quite well on DVD and the book worked wonders for the publisher. We felt that there is a vibe around Miranda that is going to be a big thing in The Future. So this is the way we pitched that. There is potential there. We trust ourselves and the people investing in us trust us. We also specialised a bit in people that are coming up, because the people that we had succeeded with before had made films before, but they were not that known to the international market. And the advantage in the case of Miranda and Gina was that we knew each other from before the success of Me and You and Everyone We Know, which gives a bit of a different base, I feel.
Now some people asked, “How did you get in touch with those guys after they won the Camera d’Or?” It’s not like that, you should be aware of what’s going on around you and I think when you are a small company working in international or national art house, it doesn’t really matter, you should have some expertise of seeing where the is potential and where could you also be of help to the artist.
I think in that way it worked quite well with Miranda, that they saw there was really something to build on and there is a relationship and there is a history also from our side.
Amra: Gina, for you, the experience of European co-production, what are the benefits? What would you say now if you had to choose between the American way and this half-European way?
Roman: The question is, would you it again?
Gina: Yes! For us it was honestly a shock when we were talking to Roman about financing the film this way. At the time we were choosing the cast, apart from Miranda, we were locking the others leads, the co-lead and the other significant roles. And Roman said “Casting? You cast it exactly the way you want”.
At some point Miranda, because the movie is about [her] in a relationship, so initially there was the thought of casting someone significantly opposite to her. Finally we realised [from] the pool of men that was in that age range, in their thirties, there would be a very small group of men that she would ever be willing to cast. So we then moved onto the older men that she has an affair with, being a person in his fifties or sixties. If you want a huge star, they won’t do a movie for less than a million. You know, Jeff Bridges doesn’t get out of his bed in Montecito for less than a million dollars. So we just went through that process to try to secure the right name for that role. It took us a long time to figure out the right person that suited what Miranda wanted and who actually was valuable.
In the US, unfortunately, with most companies, the minute you speak with any company, whether you are at an equity level or studio level, casting is constantly part of the conversation and they can be very subjective. Some companies might base on what stars bring international pre-sales, others become more subjective to what they like, etc.
We felt very comfortable with Roman, we knew that we would be able to talk about the script and that there would be a complete understanding. It’s interesting what happens with Miranda: People feel impressed, they think that Miranda’s work is so unique that she maybe is not collaborative, but she’s actually incredibly collaborative because she really needs and wants feedback all the way through from the script level to the editing. It’s very important for her to have people very smart and willing to have a conversation about what makes the movie work. It’s not about, “Oh, here is your money, leave me alone”. I think a lot of directors work like that, they want complete freedom. And it’s true that she wants final cut, but it’s a very collaborative process, so it was even more important to have people who really understand what she’s doing, who understand the script and could bring a lot to the table creatively.
The structure was complicated, but having done it, it’s not that complicated, it’s more not knowing what it is. Actually, when we were talking about the legal issues, the issues were really just dealing with the unions. The actual financing agreements were surprisingly easy. It was like, “Oh, that’s our agreement? It’s two pages!” There was a lot that we basically did on faith, we just trust each other. I decided to trust them and they trusted us, so we put in place a very basic agreement, and then we started getting cash flow. We started working together before actually all the agreements were done, and that could have been a disaster, but it worked out in our case. Like most independent films, they only are made just because you trust each other and you go forward.
Roman: From our side there was something very delightful in working with the Americans. You [to Gina] have a very positive and constructive spirit. Whenever a problem comes up, there’s not much of a “grrr” [sound of disapproval] or that feeling in the air of “You guys didn’t work properly whereas I did and you didn’t raised enough money”. All those discussions don’t exist. They trust that you did your best and they are also doing their best. It’s like we have a problem, so let’s work and try to fix it together in the best way for the film.
Apart from being hard working, it’s just a beautiful and delightful spirit that we kept until the end, so from the human point of view we still are very, very happy with this film.
Gina: We actually had a lot of problems, but in spite of that it was really fun to work with Roman and Gerhard. We had a great time. There wasn’t a sense of blame, we say, “Well, here is the problem, what are we going to do?” It could have been really bad if he was blaming me for things that were happening in the US side and vice versa, but we all had the right attitude about it.
Questions from the audience
Question 1: Can you tell us what percentage of the budget was used for the legal issues?
Gerhard: I’ll have to calculate, I still don’t have the final invoices, but it was less than 10% definitely. The problem is when you have a budget that’s not that high, we always do low budget films in a way if you compare to other movies. Having lawyer costs that can get close to 10% is a lot and it takes money away from the film. You could have spent that money in things that you will see on the screen and not in papers that no one will ever see, besides the lawyers or the banks.
Question 2: Are European co-production agreements in general – I mean, in the UK the agreements can be 30-page documents – fairly light in terms of legal costs?
Gerhard: In continental Europe, they are maybe a bit easier, not that extended agreements, not that complicated, because it’s pretty much standardised. You know how the co-production deal should look, how the agreement should look, etc. You have to take care of the European Convention, that’s pretty known to everyone, so you know how to structure co-productions…also with the fans it’s pretty standard agreements, they are like 10 pages maybe, not that complicated. It changes the moment you come to the UK and, of course, the US.
Question 3: This question is more about the creative work of the producer versus an artist, an author. Usually, artists of this kind want to work with their editor, etc. How difficult was this process to find the right person and to make Miranda accept someone she is not used to working with or that she doesn’t know very well or something like that?
Gina: In the case of Miranda she was very open to it, because she knew she wanted to work with another DP. She had a great experience with the DP in Me and You but I think she just felt she would like to try working with someone else. Honestly, when we proposed this idea, it made her a little nervous initially, before we even raised the financing, just not knowing how will that work.
I know there was the sense that we had to hire certain German crew, but even initially we didn’t have to have a German DP, it worked out that way. I think initially we picked the editor, there was a wonderful editor, she checked out his movies and she wanted to work with him. It was not a difficult process. In the end, she actually had the ability to pick any DP she wanted. And, finally, the person she picked was from Berlin so it worked out for us in terms of our financing scheme. Some directors have their team and only want to work with them, but in our case it wasn’t difficult.
Question 3: Did you have a completion bond on the film? And if so, was it required by both the German financiers and the US financiers or only by the US financiers? And if you did, did you take the completion bond from a US entity or a German entity?
Roman: We had no completion bond. Actually, I think it’s quite common for Film4 to have a completion bond attached, but given the fact that the budget was not that high they didn’t want to complicate the whole production. They know Gina from Me and You and we knew them as well. I think they just let it go because they thought we were reliable. It was a good thing to do, because that would have complicated the whole production a lot and made it more expensive too.
Question 4: In terms of financing, you mentioned the German Fund, a minimum guarantee, pre-sales. Was there any private equity from Europe that went into the movie? If so, what kind of financial position did they want against the back end in general terms?
Gerhard: The private equity is the raiser equity actually we put into the financing. We didn’t require more than other partners in the film, like Film4 on the side. Of course, there is no private investor that we have here from Europe. Actually, it’s not common, it’s not like in the US. There, you have an independent film and you have two private equity or two private people that put equity money into the film and that’s it, right? So you do two or three agreements and you have your film financed and you have the money on your account. We don’t really have that tradition here in Europe, unfortunately… but we have the funds, which is good too.
Amra (to an IFP representative): One additional question, coming from the IFP and knowing more about American indies, do you think this European-American way will be happening more or this is one-time thing?
Response: I have actually done a couple of co-productions, one in particular with Germany, with Zero Film, we produced the Hal Hartley’s film Fay Grim, and we shot in Germany, France and Turkey. We got some money out of Germany and France as well.
I think it’s great especially for filmmakers who are auteurs and have been followed in Europe. I think it affords them a great deal of creative freedom because they are supported by the companies. It’s definitely a great way for American authors to get financing.
And, once you do it, you can learn what the potential pitfalls are and you just get around it. Like we learned now that we should always lock the currency in advance, so you’re not going through the ups and downs. And then the conversations with the unions, you always do it in advance. And obviously it changes, it depends on the budget, it depends on how many films are being shot at the time.
We did a film with a German filmmaker in New York and we had to double a lot of the positions of crew, so we had a DP from Germany and then we had to hire a DP from New York who was on set every day doing nothing. So it’s case by case, but you can learn to anticipate, but I definitely recommend it to keep creative control, because when you have different parties that are part of the process, no one has total control.
Amra: Do you have anything to say at the end?
Gina: For what she was saying, I think that as you are in this market, I think it’s really good to identify those producers that you would love to work with in different countries because it’s all a collaboration based on trust. Especially when you are continents apart, I think you need to have a real sense of getting to know those people as well as you can and establishing a good rapport and you can’t do it unless you partner with producers in the countries, that’s how you put this co-production together.
Amra: Thanks to our guests and good luck for the premiere in Berlin.
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