An Action Filmmaker in Cannes – Day 2

Thursday, May 16. I got up early to do email. The home owner made us some coffee and tea, I brought along one of the ten different salamis that I bought at the grocery store, and we went off to our morning session of the Producer’s workshop.

The workshop on “Branding Yourself & Your Projects” was hosted by Roshanak Behesht Nedjad, who talked about how to pitch a film to financers. Rebecca and I were eager to learn the tricks of the trade. She gave us an acronym: SWOT. Strength (of the production), Weaknesses (that you need to address), Opportuities (in the market, like if your idea is going to be hip soon) and Threats (in the market, like if your idea is about to be made by another company at the same time). Once you identify those, you do your first draft of the script, etc., you go to the financiers and pitch the project. This was all good, if general, advice but I kept wondering when she’d mention genres as selling points. No mention was made. I think I just secretly wanted to bragg that we were making action films, but the opportunity never came up. Nothing about scifi, horror, action, thrillers… the big money making genres just didn’t make it into her talk.

A major point she made was that picking a cause, often socio-political, is a good way to buddy up with an executive producer who will get your funding. I didn’t know what to make of this really. It felt pretty cheap, and I’d just do Kickstarter if I wanted to go that route. She ended her talk with a pitch, which started with “A young girl with a traditional parent” and ended in a predictible way that’s not worth repeating.

All this time, we’re trying to sift through all this talk and figure out how to produce marketable action films. None of this was being addressed. Weird.

Over lunch we thumbed through all the literature we received with our badges, looking at co-production information with other countries. Co-producing with other countries basically means making a film that’s relevant to your country and another country, filming part of it in the foreign region, and utilizing tax incentives to raise funds to shoot there. In the end you save money and you get some exotic production value in your film. This idea first came up as one of many fundraising solutions at AFM, but it’s all the buzz here. So we started looking into it.

As we looked through the materials, we came upon Hong Kong, which said that they are looking to coproduce “films that are made for a not-for-profit purpose”. Europe was looking for “socially relevant” films, as was Latin America. I understand Latin America loves action films, so why aren’t those mentioned? Why hasn’t there been a SINGLE mention of marketable genres, while all the talk has been about coproductions with other countries and film funds? What is this strange “Film Market” we’re attending?

The afternoon workshop was called “Mining Europe for Production Finance” by Linda Beath from Ideal Filmworks. The topic was:

Europe looks like it has a lot of money for films. In fact, it does. In bits and pieces. All over the place. Subject to different rules, different regulations and unique and sometimes remarkable local industry practices. This workshop will help untangle the network of funders and funding and help producers develop a successful strategy for their features.

This is what everyone at Cannes had been waiting for – how to get money to do your film! But again, it seems the main avenue for accessing financing in Europe is through these co-productions with other countries. Beath explained how funding actually goes through. Representatives at the fund decide whether your idea is worthy, the film fund grants you the money, you pay yourself out of that budget, and you make the film and repeat the process. I could tell that the Americans in the room were surprised by this. She topped it off with, “American independent filmmakers have gotten used to the idea of their films’ success depending on market forces.” I about fell out of my seat. Where am I?

The Action Kickback model focuses on marketability, which the action genre is known for. Lower the cost of doing action, get a good script and a marketable actor and suddenly you have a business plan, something we couldn’t do 10 years ago. “Get government money” isn’t in that model. Sure there are tax breaks and credits we could all use, but those are less subject to film fund managers’ preferences because it’s a rebate on money spent, not a direct government grant. So what are we doing listening to these people talking about government grants when the people in charge of the funds aren’t even interested in action films?! Here we are calling ourselves “indie filmmakers” and buddying up with other starving artists, but as soon as we mention making an indie “Die Hard” film with the hopes of making it mainstream, we get cold stares.

We walked a good distance to find a cafe with open tables, paid 6€ for a cup of coffee, and hoofed it back to the house. We found a Lebanese place  that had a 12-course meal for 50€. We were stuffed after finishing, but they surprised us by bringing out the second half of the meal, so we had to look up “doggy bag” in the French-English dictionary.