I’ve been working on Birdland for over a year. Maybe even closer to two years? Working on it has felt very real to me since the beginning. No, it’s not my full time job (yet, although it’s getting closer to that by the day) but it’s certainly been a very serious and very “real-feeling” endeavour. I have spent hours putting together complex funding applications. Some of those applications have even been successful – and what could be realer than having someone tell you they’re going to give you money?!
But somehow, the film getting really, truly, for-real made has never felt entirely real.
We’ve spent the past year chasing money. We’ve had countless meetings with people, set up partnerships with a post-production company, a transmedia company that’s going to create a cool digital extension to our marketing plan, a sales agent and distributor. We’ve confirmed many members of our key creative team, including the director of photography, the production designer, the editor, the line producer, and others.
And still, even as we did all this, it felt precarious to me, like something that could fall apart at any moment. Like a house of cards that we could be forced to rebuild from scratch if just one tiny thing went wrong.
Then we got money from the feds! And that was a miracle. We submitted a package to our hopefully-soon-to-be-confirmed interim lender, we activated our casting director and started hunting for locations. Over the past two weeks, we’ve met with several actors and we’ll be holding a casting session in two days and auditioning a dozen contenders.
And still, it feels unreal to me.
Last week, we got a call from the feds that we were worried would be bad news (or at least difficult news – “here are five more obstacles you must overcome before we hand over the money”, that kind of thing), but it turned out to be great. They found more money to top up the amount they’d already committed to giving us. The extra influx of cash allowed us to eliminate a few of our deferrals, turning more of our budget into “real cash”.
Fake cash, for those who are wondering, includes things like deferrals, which are basically the equivalent of someone saying “you’re supposed to pay me $X, but I agree to not get paid until after the film has been made and sold, and then I’ll take my fee out of your future profits”. Those profits may never come to pass. Or there may be other investors who are first in line to be reimbursed. It’s risky, and it’s a bit like asking people to work for free (or semi-free), but it’s one way to make the financing work. And even though deferrals do reduce the amount of tax credits that you’re able to get on the money you spend on labour, they don’t eliminate the tax credits entirely, so you do eventually, theoretically, hopefully get what amounts to a tax refund for those deferred fees. Which you also put into your financing plan. Slightly-less-fake money, tax credits. They may not get to you until a year after you make the film, but they come from the government, and that’s about as real as it gets.
Fake cash is also cash that people do get paid, but then immediately reinvest back into the picture. It’s another way of getting what amounts to free services on the promise that you’ll totally pay it back later, when you start turning a profit.
Long story short, we got more cash, reduced our deferrals, have a much more solid and less anxiety-inducing budget, and … it still doesn’t feel real to me.
Until the day I am holding the offer letter from Rogers Telefund telling me that they will indeed give us that interim financing loan, and I am also holding the long-form agreements from all our funders with their signatures still wet on the page, I just can’t get my head around the fact that it’s really, truly, actually happening.
I spend more than 50% of every workday on this project, and fully intend to start full-time prep in about two or three weeks and be shooting it before the end of April. That’s like, five minutes from now. And yet, and yet, and yet.
When will it start to feel real? When we sign the contracts? When we get the first cheque? First day of shooting? Last day of shooting? Festival premiere? When I’m holding a DVD in my hand? Right the hell now would be a good time.