November 2018 Archives

I went to a meeting this week debriefing after a survey a few producers conducted with a view to feeding into the BFI's research pre-emptive of launching the next Vision Awards in 2019.

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It is clear that it is super tough for UK emerging producers. And the things they are battling are quite hard to explain without sounding bitter. We work within an industry that by and large expects Producers to be self-funded (well because most of 'em are as highlighted by this survey!). One way or another - their role is to do whatever the job takes unconditionally and be fuelled somehow by osmosis. Unfortunately this also contributes to undermining their status within the eco-chain. As more than anything else producers are seen to be the "business entity" of the filmmaking partnership. Emerging producers who don't yet have great big long track records, serious money at their finger-tips, gatekeepers in their phone contacts or power more generally are therefore perceived as weak and of little value. Equally the fact that most films are totally unrewarding for the producer who waves their fees and overheads 78% of the time, and receives profits from the pot about .3% of the time - this also implies a deluded entrepreneur driven by vanity pursuits.

The same might apply to their untried-untested writer-director counterparts, but no, in their case - at least to some degree - it's all about potential... and the future is bright.

So why is the creative role of the emerging independent producer so underestimated? Their totally invaluable role as researcher, inspirer, creator, corrector, engine, coraller, fanner of fires, trouble shooter, innovator ... so invisible - undervalued and so frequently actively undermined?

It isn't useful. It isn't healthy.

In my experience when these fragile budding teams are broken up, the projects frequently die. The directors who are generally seen as the engine, sputter and fail without their partner. Film is the result of team work. Writing, directing, producing can all be lonely isolating destabilising work. Together teams are stronger and more viable.

Because producers are juggling so much. Because they are so frequently navigating complicated delicate situations saddled very often with unreasonable narcissistic teammates, the ones who are resilient enough to get through a couple of short films and still embark on feature film development full of optimism and enthusiasm, these people are some of the most wonderful amazing people I know!! I love producers!! I am in awe of the grit, resourcefulness and sheer positive determination I have witnessed time and time again.

So, I was super psyched when I caught up with Ben Roberts at an LFF BFI Network do, and he mentioned that the BFI are canvassing opinions, doing some research to see how things can be improved and making plans for 2019...

So what can they do? Is it all about the money? I think the money thing does matter, but it's rarely just that...

Is the financial set up at the source of all the disrespect? Or is it because people come to producing from all walks of life? You don't need a degree, you don't even need any experience - there are countless examples of different types of producers associated to films. And of course this contributes to another source of disrespect - what exactly did you do? Justify yourself! Are you just a parasitic presence who has latched onto the talent, got yourself a credit? Yeah, we've all used credits as currency... When you need something from someone you can't afford to pay, you share your credit with them. Always the producer credit, never the writer or director credit... But generally if people get a credit, it is because they have done something that the film needed. But anyway...

Whatever it is, there are a million assumptions that are propagated through schools and workshops, through agents and the media, through patterns of behaviour within the industry at large that promote a contagious irreverence and a lack of understanding of what an emerging producer needs and what they contribute.

This leads to producers being confronted with these feelings over and over again:

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Like all these things in self-perpetuating cycles of abusive behaviour, there's an element of chicken and egg conundrum. Where does one start to improve things? Educating? Financing? Validating? Well they're all important, and any one of those methods could help - but what I hope they will see is that you've got to hit all of 'em to really be effective.

Teaching more meaningfully that film is a collaborative work at film schools and in training labs. Industry recognising that the full core team is the beating heart behind any film - should be recognised for their accomplishments. Not cherry picking the director out of that (I know - is there any way to discourage Film4 from constantly doing that? Possibly not). I have been told off over and over again for saying that my films have won awards, my directors have won awards - not feeling that transfers over to me, that I too as producer have won the award. Industry recognising that fanning teams is more effective than fanning individuals, strengthening bonds by showing that everyone is valued and respected equally.... Will lead to better working practices, I am sure. But it runs deep so it will take time and 360 thinking.

I have suggested affordable "surgeries" at the BFI. External impartial experts available for consultations at a subsidised hourly rate at the BFI and regional agencies (or Skillset building). Offering mentorship, mediation, training - on a one-on-one basis. I have suggested industry agents and gate-keepers be encouraged to play their important parts too. Not being the enemy... Respect, collaboration, information, transparency...

I know it all sounds a bit naive, but here you go... another blue skies optimistic still-emerging-after-all-these-years producer!!

In any case well done to those producers who put together the survey and I will watch this space with febrile impatience.... See where we land in 2019!

BFI LFF 2018 - Films

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The time for the LFF came round again and this year I was in town and having delivered the Pantene job successfully at the end of September, I was able to see a fair few films!! Yay. So here is write up review which helps me as an aide-memoire (if nothing else).
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Here is what I saw and what I thought:

Petra: Spain 2018 Dir & Wr. Jaime Rosales (co-pro with Jerome Dopffer - Sales Film Factory). The film begins by introducing us to Petra, a young artist who comes to the family home of a famous veteran artist (Juame) as his mentee - some sort of residency. Upon arrival, the first person who greets her is Juame's wife - who doesn't seem to be quite expecting her, and immediately seeds a sense of intrigue and "artistic" temperaments lie ahead. We piece various narrative threads together - both past and unfolding, in a non-linear broken way. Petra doesn't seem to know who her real dad is, Juame doesn't know who he has fathered, abuse, intrigues, secrets and lies... Petra marries and has a baby with Juame's son, and questions are raised whether or not they are brother and sister. The melodrama unfolds thus, amping up gradually, and leading to unhappiness and tragedy... I thought it was interesting but the non-linear storytelling is demanding and so occasionally I dozed off, and it was confusing picking the thread back up again - and I don't think I felt as much empathy for the characters as I should have... This film had great word-of-mouth reviews in Cannes, and the performances were very good.

Widows: UK/USA 2018 Dir Steve McQueen (prod Iain Canning / SeeSaw - Dist: 20th Cent Fox - based on the early 80s TV series of the same name by Lynda LaPlante; scr Gilian Flynn w/Steve McQueen). This hotly anticipated adaptation by McQueen is a female & diversity tour de force. Viola Davis leads as Liam Neeson's widow, having to pull together the other widows of her dead husband's gang, whose failed fatal heist leaves the mobsters who hired them wanting their money (which disappeared in an heist exploding van). This is a good action-packed mainstream film really. A well played-out thriller with intrigue and heart - betrayal, double-crossing and lots of grit.

Colette: UK 2018 (co-pro w/France & Hungary) directed by Wash Westmoreland (who co-directed Still Alice with his partner Richard Glatzer who died shortly after they delivered it) and produced by Number 9's Elizabeth Karlsen & Stephen Woolley. I see Richard Glatzer has a credit as writer here too although so does Rebecca Lenkiewicz who might have done the bulk of the legwork since Number 9 came on board. Dist: Lionsgate. Well this is a lovely and enjoyable vehicle for Kiera Knightley who excels at the spunky boyish but beautiful costume drama. Did I see another film about Colette out this year? Something in the air? In any case, Colette has somehow escaped my readings, so I did enjoy this film (very similar storyline to the WIFE of course). I thought it was interesting to see how they dealt with the French-English thing, doing all the speaking in English, but keeping the writing in French. I thought Dominic West played a good Willy and I enjoyed the film, sans plus.

Girl: BE 2018 (Dir & wr. Lukas Dhont prod Dirk Impens of Menuet Producties & co-pro J-Y Roubin of Frakas - UK Dist: Curzon Artificial Eye). I really enjoyed this film. It captures an amazing young person (Victor Polster) who is transitioning into a young woman and who wants (more than anything!!) to become a ballerina. We follow this character within the bosom of her family - where her transgenderness seems to have caused problems in the past (moved, changed schools, go to counselling etc) but seems to be accepted unconditionally by the father and the younger brother, who perhaps welcome this female presence in an otherwise motherless family. We catch an intimate glimpse of how it feels to be wanting to be like everyone - but not. Desperate to just have the operation and be done with it - the hormone treatments don't work fast enough... Wanting to be accepted and wanting to find love. Extraordinary to have found this beautiful 15 year old, filmed her with sensitive unintrusive yet intimate photography, which is what really makes this film more than anything.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: USA 2018 (Coen Brothers). This is a compilation of old western short stories. All dark, violent and loveless - a la spaghetti western. A bit of dark humour and cruel irony - all beautifully shot and very clever. The one story with a female interest was by far the most engaging and the only one with human warmth (excellent Zoe Kazan).

Make Me Up: - FABULOUS! Rachel Maclean's film!! (Experimenta as it is called at the BFI) Experimental rather than pure narrative but clearly demonstrates what Rachel can do!! Funded through the 14-18 NOW - with this one focussed on women getting the vote (very very loosely of course!!)

Journey to a Mother's Room: (Dir scr: Celia Rico Clavellino. I liked the premise very much: Mother and daughter, getting over the recent death of husband - father. Daughter having to leave to find her way in the world. Lots of silences and focus on clothes making (mother is a tailor) and bother mother and daughter concerned for each other. Very intimate, really well portrayed but also very quiet and slow and I have to confess to have dozed off too often to be able to give it a proper review... Oops again (old age...)

Suspiria: (ITALY 2018) Luca Guadagnino - Sales Film Nation. A remake of Dario Argento's cult classic with the GREAT soundtrack etc.. by the guy who made "Call me by your name". Weird film to choose to remake - particularly for this director. Big stars, weirdness - sexy witchy horror with a touch of dance and glamour - set in Berlin with a recurring sense of importance attributed to the Baader-Meinhof activities but I'm not sure what it adds... I don't see much point to this rather lavish expensive remake! (why bother? Not for me I'm afraid)

Sunset: (HUNG 2018 - Dist Curzon Artificial Eye - Playtime (François Yon, Nicolas Brigaud-Robert & Valéry Guibal Sales & co-pro) Lászó Nemes' film (was at Torino with us developing this) - I hadn't expected to like it. Partly because at TFL, I couldn't get it during their pitching. It sounded deep and intellectual, but unintelligible and like it would go right past me. But actually I really loved it - I found it totally compelling - and it stays with me. I wasn't so fond of Son of Saul. I loved the short film Lászó made that it was based on and the photography itself, the choreography and production design were amazing but it all felt very aesthetic, and focussed me on process and filmmaking - and its human story left me cold (which seems almost impossible!!). So why does Sunset work for me here?! I'm not sure but it really does. Maybe because it's harder to understand what's going on, and this adds to the thrill - following this young woman into danger with a weird sense of turmoil, bravery and innocence in a time and place (end of the Austro-Hungarian empire) corrupted and about to be overturned. Another great female driven film - where our main protagonist played brilliantly by Juli Jakab is at the same time utterly vulnerable and powerful.

Madeline's Madeline: (scr & dir Josephine Decker USA 2018) - This had such a great write up via Sundance and sounded so interesting, great trailer but... It was an experimental loose piece - very Miranda July (who is in it). I went to see it because it also has lots of interesting comps with The Girl from the Estuary. The main protagonist an adolescent misfit wanting to be an actress in a theatre play and getting delusional and mixed up as she gets deeper in. And a scene which reminds me of a scene we have in our script which works pretty well here. But all in all it didn't pull me in. The young girl was great (Helena Howard) and probably someone to watch. And the film has Miranda July and Molly Parker in it, but no... meh. Feels like a first feature, but it's a third. The director is also an actress. She met the main girl when she was panelling a teen arts festival. Helena Howard was doing a monologue of Blackbird (David Harrower) - Blackbird seems to be referenced all the time at the moment! Josephine Decker found it so moving she cried and they've been in touch ever since and this film was written around her.

The Chambermaid: (scr & dir Lila Avilés Mexico-USA 2018 - Sales Alpha Violet) - This is one of those small films that will stay with me a long time, like Lelio's Gloria did, Michel Franco's After Lucia, Lucía Puenzo's XXY and Bille August's Best Intentions did ... Quiet but perfectly handled, very human and weirdly mostly Hispanic!! Except for Bille August. This is about a luxury hotel chambermaid getting on with her difficult job and her interactions with guests, colleagues & bosses. It's very internal - a bit like Sunset, you are with the main character (Eve) the whole time and just following at her heels as she gets through her days, missing her ride home to her family at night, covering for colleagues, dreaming... You wouldn't think it would make for a great film on the basis of that, but it is one my favourites from the festival!!

The Favourite: (Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos) - Prod: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday. Scr: Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara. Fabulous period piece by Yorgos which they've been developing for ages apparently - since before Lobster. With Olivia Coleman as Queen Anne & Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone fighting it out as her favourites. Amazing to see the leap Yorgos has made and how good he is with British actors and big budgets! I really enjoyed this one a lot. And I knew nothing of Queen Anne before this and I always love a bit of a history lesson - again lots of interesting women-led films this year!!

If Beale Street Could Talk: Final one... (USA 2018 - Scr-Dir: Barry Jenkins) - The follow up after Moonlight... And another James Baldwin adaptation. This was very enjoyable and I think always good to have more work on the screen that illustrates how awful and insecure it is just trying to live a normal life as a black person in the western world. But it wasn't mind blowing - quite mainstream, a bit forgettable maybe because the main protagonists were all a bit too nice, but good entertainment, with really good performances, some great family scenes between the two families - and a story definitely worth telling.

Sad to have missed:
Roma of course! But will no doubt see it in the cinema v soon.
Ray & Liz - which Dan Landin lit and Joe line produced & is most probably a very interesting piece. Marcello said it was the best thing he saw in the whole festival.
Holiday - was meant to be really haunting & good (more Sopranos / The Bridge scandi style noir thriller)
Border - Also meant to be really haunting & good (Dark & weird Scandi style)
Irene's Ghost (doc reconstruction) - I will see it at some point but would have been lovely to see it there. (Becky's film)
Happy as Lazarro - I missed in Cannes too where it had good reviews.
Dogman - Matteo Garrone's latest film, also people said it was great.
Joy I missed and it won the best film award. Hopefully it means it'll get distribution here...

Pantene Commercial

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Coming out of summer, a great little job came to us from New York via a FB recommendation from fabulous DoP Brad Rushing who I worked with on commercials with Joseph Kahn back in the day. Amazing how these things can work!

Dana Offenbach from CinemaStreet Pictures got in touch and after some pitching and budgeting and all the usual, we got Shakyra Dowling ( from Mercury) to start searching hard and fast for the cast - she did an amazing job.

We had a great time producing the 4 commercials for Tracy Brosnan creative director at DeVries and a great opportunity to reconnect with Sonja Phillips who I got on board to direct them. We had a fantastic crew: Susanne Salavati on camera, Ray Moody on 2nd unit, John Thorpe (from Mercury) on sound, Louis Caseley and Alice-Mae Mayall on art department, Holly Fowles-Pazdro (from Crocodile) on hair and make-up - which was a great opportunity for Kiloh to gain more make-up assisting experience #MUA.

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