Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video Securing funding, part of 2011 SBIFF Producers' Panel: Movers and Shakers.
Patrick Goldstein: I guess, my real question, I think in terms of the art of producing, is the dark art of raising money for your movie, because it's often not there. And I think people will often wonder, "So have you learned--are there some actual tricks to the trade, or what sort of ingenuity do you have to use in terms of fundraising?" Iain Canning: Well, we had Jeffrey on board, and we had a script that people responded to, and it was incredibly tough, but I guess people did--I mean we had some funny, strange moments where people would read the scripts and say "Yes, now we are doing the film." And then we would say, "Oh, what a sec.
In the first page, it says, 'For the ease of read, we are not going to do the performance of the stammer through the script because that's an actor's performance. That is not something that you want to imitate on script.'" So people would read the script and go, then remind themselves that he had a stammer, and go "Oh! Yeah, this is a different film than what I thought." So we had some strange moments like that. But primarily, it was incredibly difficult to net everyone together in the "herding of the cats," which I call that process--because everybody is scratching their way out and you have got to kind of pull them all in-- it was complicated, but people really did love David Seidler scripts and they love Jeffrey and national treasure Colin Farrell didn't hurt either.
Patrick: So, when you don't have a lot of a budget, and I think in your case, I don't know, somewhere $12-$15 million-- you are shooting a period film, unlike most of these other films that are pretty much set today-- so, when you are doing a period film, what are some of the ways that when you don't have a lot of money, you can creatively cut corners to come up with-- I remember when I was young, Roger Corman, I interviewed him, and he said, "The first thing we always did," because Roger Corman made these B movies, "We'd always have a shot of the billboard, and the billboard would look like the 1930s or the 1950s or whatever period we were in, and then we could just shoot the rest of the film wherever we were. But once they saw the billboard, they said, 'Oh! Yeah, we are in another time.'" Iain: It probably helped that it was a very smog-related time when we were shooting, so that perfectly helped us in a way.
I think, as well, in terms of British film at that point there wasn't any period films being made, and I think in the UK especially that's such a part of our filmmaking tradition. So, I--in terms of the ambition, I think all the suppliers and everybody involved sort of took a punt on the film working, but also one of the early conversations I had with David was, "Oh, I am going to keep them in the room as much as possible. I am going to keep them in the consultation room." And we were like, "No, get them out of the consultation room.
We can sort of have more scope." So actually, it was the odd way around, because David was trying to be the sort of super-realist, where we were trying to be the idealists, which is not normally the way it goes with producer. Patrick: Right, because that's one of those nice scenes in the film when they get out for a walk in foggy London, and that scene could have stayed inside. But what's great is that when the King gets really pissed off at him, he just leaves him behind, which is, again, you couldn't have done in an interior scene.
Iain: And he was the Duke of York at that period, so he could have conceivably walked around with Logue at that point and not being recognized in the way Iain: that he would have been suddenly when he became King. Patrick: Right. Patrick: So now Alix may want to contest this, but in my research it seemed like Blue Valentine had the actual lowest budget of all the films, which was Jamie Patricof: I think she wins. Patrick: around a million dollars. Alix Madigan: Should we whisper? Jamie: No, you go ahead. Our's was four. You take it. Alix: Ours was two. Male Speaker: Wow! Patrick: So, I want to ask both of you again--because these are both remarkable films that got made and have such a wonderful sense of place and great character, so, again, if both of you could talk a little bit about how did you find the money, and once you had it, how did you find ways to make it go as long a way as possible? Alix: Basically, we tried to--Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini and I tried to put together the movie through the kind of standard, which Jamie of course does very well, put together the movie but through sort of the standard indie model, which is by putting some sort of name actor in the role to garner financing. And I have to say unfortunately that didn't work out, because we were able, ultimately, to get our money through an equity source who believed not only in Debra Granik, but also in the genre aspects of the material and felt the movie could be marketed in a thriller kind of way that could be commercial.
I think the great thing about Debra being able to cast actors who were unknown was that you could truly immerse yourself and get lost in the film. It's really exciting, for instance, to see John Hocks get the recognition that he is getting, because he was a journeyman actor who has been working for years and who is just really incredible at what he does, and was able to just give this incredible performance, and no one really--he didn't really have great name recognition.
If I went down the list of the people tried to get for that role in order for us to get financing, again, I am just, not to knock any of the actors who we went out to, but I am just kind of glad that the movie became what it was because we weren't able to do that. Jamie: Blue Valentine took-- Derek wrote script 12 years ago. I did a film called Half Nelson five years ago, and the plan was--we talked to Ryan after that film--the plan was to go make Blue Valentine as a follow-up to that, and we just couldn't get the money.
Ryan and Michelle were both attached, and over the years we kept on getting close to the finish line through different private equity sources. And this is a movie where we had Ryan Gosling, we had Michelle Williams, who are very highly respected actors, but neither of them were major stars that led people to sort of throwing money at us, even at a very low-budget level. I mean we had budgets for the film at $2 million, even a million and a half. We could have beaten her. But we just couldn't get there, and then finally, the irony of the situation is that we finally at the end of the process, through a traditional financing source, a film finance company, we got a budget that was higher than we even needed, truthfully.
I mean, this was a very low-fi movie-- Derek, and we had a very specific way to do it. He didn't want many lights. He didn't want--his rule for the camera department was you are only allowed one truck, didn't matter what you wanted. And that was the same thing with the lighting department. You're only allowed one thing. He wanted it to be as minimal as possible. He always wanted as minimal crew as possible. Half the time when we were shooting, there would be Derek and one or two other crew members in the room shooting in there, and sometimes Derek would be shooting, himself, and that's how we wanted to make the movie.
If somebody had given us $20 million, we would have--and we actually this is --I probably shouldn't say this. We actually had a problem at the end of the film--everybody is going to sort of think I am crazy-- it was a very unusual problem. We shot the film in Pennsylvania, and our bond company was adamant about us adding a lot of money to certain parts of the budget that we didn't want to add money to because we knew we didn't need it. And our accountant comes in about a week before finishing and says, "You know, we have a big problem." I was like, "This is not good." We laughed. What could the problem be? We need to spend more money. Because you have to spend a certain amount of your budget in Pennsylvania, we hadn't spend enough money because we were so under budget. And it sounds crazy, but the complete financing would have been disaster if we hadn't hit that number.
So we really had, during that last week, to rethink how we are going to do it. We wound up having to move our editor to Pennsylvania to edit the film. We had to do all these crazy things. I wanted to buy the Scranton Yankees. That didn't work out. I kind of felt like I was in Brewster's Millions, but there are other ways to do it, but - Patrick: Well, for example, how many days? Jamie: 25 days. Patrick: Alix, on your film, how many days? Alix 24 days. Patrick: And as a comparison, Mike, on Social Network? Mike De Luca: 90.
Patrick: Okay. So, again, that's the difference between independent filmmaking and having a studio behind you. One thing is the filmmaker has a lot more time for setups and to try a lot more complicated stuff. So again, what interests me is in those 24, 25 days, as a producer, how much of your time is spent saying, how do we get the biggest bang for our buck? How do we condense things, or can we shoot all of the stuff in the same area without having to move? What are a couple of examples of that? Jamie: Yeah. I mean I think you are always try to figure out how can we condense locations, how can we decrease number of shooting days, how can we get through more scenes in a day, all those things.
But I think the other thing is that what makes Blue Valentine Blue Valentine and what makes Winter's Bone Winter's Bone is sort of this sort of a feeling of really being inside the movie and it being really personal and not having this grandiose scope. If we had had this sort of scope of a movie like the Social Network or The Fighter or Toy Story 3 even, you have these massive planes you are playing with. The films wouldn't work. And I think at the same time, so when you have a film like the Social Network, you need that time to get these scenes that are just massive, and for us, it's sort of the flip side.
You need to sort of whittle it down to the sort of core and essence of it in order to get those scenes. So if people are worried about feeling like they are in this sort of huge world, they're not going to have the experience they need to enjoy Winter's Bone or Blue Valentine, and the same thing goes for Social Network. I mean, if you look at--you were talking about is the opening scene of Social Network, all the way through that party scene, I mean that is such a massive endeavor to make that work the way it did. And we couldn't have made the--I could have made the Social Network for the budget that I made Blue Valentine for, but it just would have not been a good film. (laughter) It wouldn't have worked. It just wouldn't have worked the same way.
Patrick: Todd, also, you developed The Fighter at Paramount and spent years. There is a whole litany of different writers, different actors, different filmmakers. You finally get this great cast, and a great filmmaker, David Russell, and you still had to go to an outside investor, Ryan Kavanaugh, Relativity to put up the money. What does that tell us about today's studio system? Todd Lieberman: Dramas are extremely difficult to get made. But as evidenced by everyone on this panel, with the exception of our Toy Story friend over there, they're all pretty much dramas, and they've all had critical acclaim. For the most part, there has been big box office success on them.
So I think that they're harder to take a bet on, but when the good ones come out, there's obviously a financial reward to them. And I hope that this year will allow others like that to continue to make those movies. I mean we had Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, David O. Russell, and no one would finance the movie. We ended up making it for, at least in studio terms, a low budget, not in independent terms, but it was a $23 million movie that we shot in 33 days. And that was the most that we could get. And to Jamie's point over there, that's exactly the way this movie should have been made.
So it was difficult to find the money for it, but I hope that because of the financial success and the critical acclaim that all these movies are getting that maybe it will clear some sort of pathway for more great dramas. Jamie: I think the thing about movies now versus five years ago is that you need a great cast, you need a story that's a great script, you need a filmmaker who knows what they are doing, you need a cast that is right-- not only from a performance standpoint but also has something the distributor can use to help them get the movie out into the world--and it needs to be done for the right budget, and that sounds sort of like a simple formula.
But I think for many years it's sort of just the money just sort of started escalating to a point, whether it was the special divisions like Vantage and more independent, those companies that sort of allowed the budgets to balloon. But I mean, as Todd just said, they needed $23 million to make that movie, and that's all they were able to--that's what they got. And 10 years ago, 5 years ago somebody tells me that $23 would have been maybe $35 or $40, and ultimately it wouldn't have been successful. Todd: Yeah. I mean, there were versions the movie we are talking about that were $70 million with Brad Pitt, and it would have been a whole different movie and a whole different set of circumstances, and you end up with the thing you're supposed to end up with.
It just kind of always works out that way.
Moderated by Patrick Goldstein from the Los Angeles Times, these six producers cover many topics not often discussed in the entertainment press. The struggle to get a picture funded, ratings battles with Motion Picture Association of America, where the lines are drawn making a dramatic film based on a real life event, and working with a difficult director. They offer amazing stories of perseverance and triumph.
This panel includes Darla K. Anderson (Toy Story 3), Iain Canning (The King’s Speech), Alix Madigan (Winter’s Bone), Todd Lieberman (The Fighter), Mike Deluca (The Social Network), and Jamie Patricof (Blue Valentine).