stuff, written by me

Monthly Archives: June 2013

Anil and his teammates chill in Fondi

An old friend of mine, Dev Khanna, recently directed a feature. He’s done several shorts before (many have played TIFF and they’re great) and I was excited to see his feature, which I got the chance to do last week as part of a private press/friends/word-of-mouth screening intended to introduce the film to pals who may be able to get the word out about it in advance of the theatrical run.

So, biases declared up front, this is a movie directed by a friend of mine, and I definitely would like to help him drum up interest for the theatrical release (the film will have a week long run at the Royal in Toronto starting this weekend). However, I also wanted to write an honest review, because I  had so many thoughts about it during and after the screening.

The film takes place in the early ’90s and centres on Anil, a teenage Indian-American boy (born in Jersey, but still the only non-white kid on his team) who goes to a small town in Italy with his soccer team to compete in a tournament. All the boys have high hopes for the trip, mostly revolving around scoring – not on the soccer field, but with the hot italian girls that they’re inevitably going to meet in the picturesque town of Fondi.

Anil is a thoughtful, quiet type, his shyness sometimes manifesting as frustrating timidity and powerlessness and at other times as outright cowardice. When he sees the beautiful au pair of their wealthy host, Anil is immediately smitten. However, an ugly, half-witnessed incident involving one of his teammates ruins his chance for romance and leaves Anil stuck between strong feelings of guilt, desire, impotent rage and confusion.

Even though there are scenes in Fondi ’91 in which certain characters’ actions and inactions were  frustrating and their motivations inscrutable, the film made me think. A lot. My only real qualm with it is the fact that the film treats women – and the often troubling things that happen to them – as catalysts for the important things that happen to men. The women are secondary – there to pique Anil’s interest, arouse his desire, make him feel good and bad, and teach him valuable lessons – they’re not agents in their own lives, just supporting players in his.

the beautiful au pair

the beautiful au pair, with her milky skin

The young au pair – the object of Anil’s desire and the catalyst for all the chaos in the film – is beautiful, innocent, foreign (therefore nearly wordless) and pure. She’s a blank slate onto which Anil can project all his own mixed up feelings. He spends much of the film impotently following her around, desperate for her attention but unable to express this desire. The pain she endures is only relevant as it relates to Anil, and while he also has his share of pain to cope with, his is handled with more depth. The film is about him, after all.

This is a very unusual coming of age story, one which explores not just the innocent desires of well meaning teens, but also sexual pressure and assault – all incredibly complex and uncomfortable subjects to put on screen in what seems, ostensibly, to be a lighthearted romance. In fact, Fondi ’91 is much more than that. It’s a complicated and often sad story about how painful and downright brutal it can be to learn some of life’s most important lessons about love and morality.

Of course, those minor quibbles about the female characters aside, I really enjoyed Fondi ’91. The story has real sensitivity and emotion at its heart, and I think it’s a pretty mature and well crafted debut from a promising Canadian director. I encourage you to go out and see it, Torontonians.

This week, I’m focusing a lot of my time and attention on budgets. I find financing to be the most consistently confusing part of making a movie, and I definitely still don’t fully “get it”.

For two of the projects I’m working on, the budget looks like it’s going to be in the neighbourhood of $1.2 million.

If you asked me how it will be spent, I’d have to say “I’m not there yet – we only have the vague totals in mind and everyone (who’s more experienced than me) says it’s realistic, so I’m trusting the professionals until I can sit down with some kind of money person and an actual line producer (they manage the day to day operations on a shoot and keep an eye on budgets) to break it all down. Till then, I  won’t have a clue about how that $1.2 million will be spent. All I know is, I ain’t getting rich off it, because if there’s one thing everyone seems to agree, it’s that a million bucks is peanuts when you’re making a movie. It’s a hard fact to wrap your head around because in almost any other life context, it’s a huge amount of money.

But anyway. Rookie musings.

Now I don’t know about you, but for me the first question that comes to mind when you’re talking about raising over a million dollars is “where the fuck are we going to find over a million dollars!?” Very slowly, I am starting to find out the answer, but boy is it convoluted.

how does budgeting and funding make me feel?

how does budgeting and funding make me feel?

First, there are the government funds (in Canada, at least). Telefilm Canada, the OMDC, Astral’s Harold Greenberg Fund and various others all provide funds for various phases of the filmmaking process. they all have very specific rules, regulations and requirements. For example, the OMDC will give you up to $400,000 for a feature film, but it has to be a maximum of 15% of your budget (so if the budget is $1.2M, that cap is actually more like $180,000), and they have to be “last-in”, which means you have to have raised the other 85% of your budget before they’ll enter the picture. Telefilm has a different maximum, which has to be a different percentage of your total, with different requirements about what you have in place when you come to them. I’m simplifying, but you can already see how it can easily become a real jigsaw puzzle trying to put this together.

Then there’s sales. If you get a good international sales agent on board, they can help to raise some of the money for your film, either by pre-selling the film (on the basis of something that makes it attractive to distribution companies in other countries before it’s even been made – like a big star, or a concept that’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser, or a genre that works particularly well in their country, or who knows). Basically, if your film is pre-sold, the distributor gives you an MG (a minimum guarantee) which is an advance against sales you’re likely to make in their territory. Sometimes pre-sales give you actual cash in hand to help you make the film. Other times, it’s just a guarantee of future revenue.

Then there’s tax credits. In Canada, there are all kinds of tax incentives for shooting your film here, and they vary from province to province. For every dollar you spend on labour during your film shoot in Ontario, you eventually get back something like 35%. There are rules about what expenditures are eligible, and there are all kinds of bonuses. Your percentage gets bumped up if you shoot outside of the GTA, for example. But then you have to calculate whether the amount will be worth the expense of having to travel somewhere and put everyone up in another town for weeks, instead of letting the majority of your (let’s face it, very likely Toronto based) crew just live at home during the shoot.

Tax credits can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the government could take up to a year (sometimes even longer) to get the money to you, so if you need that money to help your cashflow situation, you need to get a bank loan (or something like it) in the amount of your future tax credits, which you will then pay back when they arrive. This also means calculating bank interest into your budget. Complicated, right?

Some producers seem to feel that tax credits should be considered a cherry on top of a completed budget – not a crucial part of what you need to get the movie made. But increasingly, everyone I talk to considers tax credits to be necessary because it’s hard to put all the pieces together without counting on that extra cash.

Some companies (be they production companies, sales companies, distributors or big movie studios) have their own pools of money which they can invest into a production. One sales agent / distributor that we’ve worked with on a previous project is able to finance films fully up to about the $2M mark. Of course, the high end of that is very, very rare, and they’d much prefer that you bring them a brilliant script for $700,000. However, they’re out there, and they’re looking for projects.

Of course, figuring out who those companies are and how much money they have is a difficult task. That’s a large part of the scouting I did in Berlin and also in Cannes – meeting with people, introducing them to my slate of projects, finding out what they’re after and then figuring out whether anything I have might appeal to them. Attending markets is expensive and might not seem like  the best investment if you’re broke and just trying to get a little project off the ground. But it might be the most efficient and cost effective way to get your project to the right people, actually.

Then there’s investors. If you’re incredibly lucky, or if you travel in wealthy circles and are a smooth talker, perhaps you can get a private investor on board. Investing in a film (instead of, say, the stock market) can be a wise and lucrative move for someone with lots of money, and there are lots of people out there who do it. In exchange, they get a percentage of ownership in the project and usually a credit (like, Executive Producer). They get paid back for their investment first, and if the movie makes a profit, they get a percentage of that as well.

Worst case scenario, if the film fails to make a profit (as often also happens in the stock market), at least the investor can point to a completed product that they are hopefully proud of and say “hey, I produced that”. The glamour of being “in the movie biz” is not to be underestimated. Lots of people want to be involved even if there are no big stars or even the promise of big money, because movies are cool and glamorous. It’s a myth Hollywood has been building for a hundred years, and people really buy into it. Best case, the investor makes back their money and perhaps even a bit of a profit, enjoys the process and wants to do it again.

are you bored yet?

are you bored yet?

One of the films that I’m working on is hoping to put together a budget that is 75% various government funds and 25% a producer / sales agent who can contribute financially to the film. That is, if we actually get the maximum amount that we’re technically eligible for from each of those funds, which is a huge gamble. They could easily choose to give us less, and we’d be stuck with a big gap. Plus, the deadlines for each of those funds (and the dates by which we’d hear from them about whether the project has been approved) don’t coincide very well at all with our projected schedule, so we may end up having to delay everything by a few months.

The second project is going to be 30% private investment from Canada, 25ish% from a North American distributor, 20% from Canadian government funds, 25ish% from government funds and a distributor in Germany. That is, if we can convince everyone that the terms will be favourable to them. We’ve got five partners on this one and four out of five are assuming financial risk in the situation, so they have to be very sure that they’re comfortable with the terms. Guess who’s not assuming financial risk? This guy.

See what I mean when I say it’s complicated?

This past week has been scheduling hell. It’s also been super fun and really exciting, don’t get me wrong. But damn.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this past week was the week of multiple filmmaker visits. First, the very awesome director and producer duo of The Demon’s Rook came to town for an intensive four day colour correction blitz.

director James Sizemore and producer Tim Reis - how cute are these dudes?

director James Sizemore and producer Tim Reis – how cute are these dudes?

I’ve never seen colour correction done before. I was fascinated by the extent to which they could not only change the colours in a scene – changing flat-looking grass into a vibrant green, for example – but also how easily they could re-light a scene in order to draw the eye to a particular part of the frame and focus the viewer’s attention. The process was done for us as a favour (a huge and expensive and incredibly generous favour), but it certainly made me realize how crucial the process is. The Demon’s Rook was already a super fun movie, and it already looked good. Colour correction just made it look so much more polished and slick that it’s as if we doubled or tripled the budget in those four days.

Now we just have to sit back and wait for the festival invitations to start rolling in, I guess. Knock on wood. Fingers crossed.

director James Sizemore is also an amazing painter and brought us this fantastic print

director James Sizemore is also an amazing painter and brought us this fantastic print

The second pair of filmmakers (our adorable Germans) were in town to talk to potential Canadian partners in order to hopefully make a deal that will allow the film to get financed and move forward. We have assembled  several Canadian partners who can bring a lot to the project. Naturally, they will want something in exchange for their contribution – a stake in the project.

This means that the German producer has a tough choice to make – is he willing to give up a chunk of the control over the project in exchange for the possibility of actually getting it made. No matter how great the deal looks, it’s got to be tough. He’s spent two years working very hard on this, and now he has to give a portion of it away and trust that others won’t muck it up.

I tagged along on a tour of Pinewood Studios with the German delegation - it's huuuuuuge

I tagged along on a tour of Pinewood Studios with the German delegation – it’s huuuuuuge

While all this has been happening, I’ve also been trying to put together an application form for some funding for the project I’m working on with Peter Lynch. I feel like that film is supposed to be my top priority, but I had to neglect it this week because everything else was happening all at the same time. Stressful.

Next week, when life goes “back to normal” (ha ha), I will hopefully catch up on all the work (and laundry) that I’ve neglected this week. As July is around the corner, I also have to start focusing on prep for our end-of-July trip to the Fantasia festival in Montreal, where Colin and I will be attending the Frontieres international co-production market, representing The Void (by team Manborg). Hopefully, all this upcoming work will be interesting and informative to write about, and all my blog posts won’t end up being the same “oooh, I’m sooooooo busyyyyyy” nonsense. Let’s hope.

Not really. But I definitely feel like the compounded stress of the past few weeks has made me neglect myself a little bit.

For the past year or so, Colin and I have been getting a weekly box of fresh, organic produce delivered to our door. We use Front Door Organics. The service is fantastic. The basic box costs $37, and it’s a good deal – there’s almost too much in the box for the two of us to eat in a week. If I don’t cook every single day, we end up with a lot left over at the end of the week. That in itself is an incentive to cook, because otherwise you’re letting perfectly good food go to waste. Even just the simple fact that I don’t have to find time to go grocery shopping means that I cook more often (my problem isn’t “not making time to cook” it’s “not making time to ensure there are things to cook with in the fridge”), so on the whole the box delivery experiment has been a huge success.

However, for the past two weeks I’ve been stress-eating pizza and ice cream and I am really feelin’ the consequences. I’m sluggish and grumpy and I have wilting kale in my fridge.

I didn't finish it in one sitting, but three sittings isn't thaaaaat much better

I didn’t finish it in one sitting, but three sittings isn’t thaaaaat much better

After months of eating well and going to the gym approximately five days per week (seriously, I’ve been doing that since October – I’m not sure that it shows on the outside but I feel like a new person on the inside), I’ve really gone on an insane downward spiral for the past three weeks. The compounded stress of too much work, too many high-stakes projects on the go, too much travel, too many deadlines, too many simultaneous out of town visitors, and too little sleep has conspired to make me feel like I’ve undone all the good work I’ve done over the past seven or eight months of reasonably healthy living.

I can see where the problem lies (in my lack of self control, probably) and I’m really struggling to get my ass back in gear. I work better, have more energy and am more focused when I’m living a basically healthy lifestyle. I’m not some kind of health fanatic, but I can tell the difference between pizza + beer and salad + the gym on my moods. In fact, the effect on my moods is so dramatic and immediate that it’s kind of shocking. So, why is it so hard to make the right choices?

Rhetorical question.

see how gleeful I look when I'm flexing muscles I don't have?

see how gleeful I look when I’m flexing muscles I don’t have?

For the next five-ish weeks, I’m hoping to jumpstart a new era of fitness motivation with some classes at Academy of Lions (I love feeling like a tough guy when I work out so this vibe is pretty much made for me), but I know the real key is making time to eat properly.

I don’t want to become a lame fitness blogger who’s constantly posting half-naked before and after shots, but I know that I have a lot (A LOT) of work ahead of me on a million film projects over the next few months, and if I don’t get my lifestyle and daily routines under control, I’m never going to be able to manage it without going nuts. In the interest of using this blog to post about all of the stuff I’m juggling in my life, I thought it would be a good idea to do an occasional health check-in. But don’t expect weekly stats on my workouts or anything. Unless you really want that sort of thing, weirdos.

I’m back in Toronto post-Cannes, and I have to face just how busy my summer is going to be. As a way to procrastinate writing my immediate to do lists, I though it’d be good to list the projects I’m working on this summer, here on the blog, since I hope to write about them over the next few months, and I want you all to know what I’m talkin’ about when I refer to each.

I’m currently juggling three film projects, on top of my consulting work with REEL CANADA (which will itself keep me busy for one or two days per week through the summer). The films are all in different stages of development (or completion), and my role is pretty different in each case. On the first film listed below, I’m not getting paid anything. I’m happy to do it in exchange for a producing credit, because that’s meaningful for me as well. The other two films might pay out eventually, once all the funding has been raised and I can get my allotted fee, but those paydays are a long way away, so for the foreseeable future, I’m just gambling on these projects actually getting made. It’s a big gamble, and I’ll be both busy and a little bit broke for a while, but  I gave up my secure full time job last year because I really believed I could make a go of it as an independent producer, so fingers crossed, right?

So, anyway, the films.

First, The Demon’s Rook. Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook and/or Twitter may have noticed a few weeks ago that I posted about getting my first IMDB credit on this low-budget horror film from just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. The film is almost done, and my involvement is in helping the director and producer polish it up and get it out into the world.

The Demon's Rook

a still from The Demon’s Rook

The film may be almost done, but the next few weeks and months will still be pretty busy as we hustle to submit it to various festivals around the world. If (when!) it gets into some of those, we’ll have to start promoting the hell out of it and trying to get a sales agents on board who might be able to help us get the film out into the world on DVD and VOD after its festival run.

The second project I’m working on is a cool film called Replace, which is shaping up to be a German / Canadian co-production. The film has a completed script and a few key elements into place, and we’re now trying to  attach the right Canadian partners so that we can access some funding and hopefully shoot the film here sometime in the fall or winter. Thankfully, I’m just a support player on this project, helping to match the German side with some great Canadians who can help make it happen. I’m not responsible for raising the money myself, and thank goodness, because I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.

some cool concept art for Replace

some cool concept art for Replace

In a couple of weeks, the director and producer of The Demon’s Rook are coming to town to do some colour correction*, and the director and producer of Replace will also be flying in, from Munich, to meet with some potential partners. It’s coincidentally bad timing (or just hectic-as-f*#% timing), in the sense that I’ll be trying to juggle my REEL CANADA work, my other projects, and hosting two sets of filmmakers in town all at the same time.

The final project, which will actually be occupying the bulk of my time this summer, is one I’m working on with Canadian director Peter Lynch. It’s a cool murder mystery with noir elements and it’s at a similar stage of development as Replace. The script is mostly done, and we’re trying to line up cast and financing with the hope of shooting sometime in early 2014. I’m not sure if that sounds like a long way off to you, but to me it sounds terrifyingly soon. On this film, I’m working together with Peter on the nuts and bolts of putting it together. Rather than being a peripheral player, I’m actually on the front lines of producing this one. This is probably the project I will spend the summer blogging most about (the title is TBD, we’re working on it) as I navigate the various steps, from applying for funding, to putting together the key creative team, to casting, and so on. Since this is the project I’m most hands on with, I am anxious to knock it out of the park.

* For those of you who, like me a few months ago, are asking “what’s colour correction”, here’s the Cole’s Notes version. It’s basically a process of tweaking every clip in the film in order to get the right exposure and balance of light, and in order to adjust and match the colour temperature that you want for each scene. To me, this sounds like it must be a tedious and incredibly time consuming mechanical process. And yet, having seen films before and after this has been done, I can also see that in skilled hands, it is an art. The things you learn when you’re a producer who never went to film school!