Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chronicles 70 - Roll with the punches

Yes, I know, it's been a while. Months, I believe. Well, you know, I'm starting to see this as a bit of a 'boutique' blog. A bi-monthly/quarterly output to a small, very select clientele. ;-)

Truth be told, I am trying to stick to the M.O. of the blog which is to chronicle my 'tales from the trenches' experiences as a writer/producer BUT I'm caught between not wanting to blog about every insignificant quotidian event and, on the other hand, not wanting to jinx opportunities by talking all the energy out of them. Mmhh, guess I should have thought about that before starting the blog, right?

Stll, I think I have made enough faux-progress in recent months to merit a blog post. Warning: this may be a LONG post and may include some self-therapeutic ramblings on my part. It's been quie a ride recently.

First things first: casting directors. Let's start with LA first. Back in Jan/Feb I set up a meeting with an LA casting director and my LA producer regarding my romantic comedy. The conclusion of the meeting from the producer's POV was 'let's move on'. It seemed that the casting director had made it clear that she wanted a fully financed film and a fat fee up front. That looked like the end of that, except, no, wait...

A week or two later she wrote an email to the producer wondering why she hadn't heard anything back from him. The producer wrote back a curt reply along the lines of 'you're looking for a fully financed film, we're not that'. I picked up on the email. I sensed that the casting director was interested, she mentioned that she loved the script, and that maybe she was open to negotiation so I wrote back and gave her an overview as to how we would put the project together and that we could offer her an advance on her fee. She responded positively and told me to get in touch with her agent. Yes, in Hollywood even casting directors have agents!

Now the fun starts. I call the agent and suddenly the fee triples! WTF! It's no longer the advance fee against a deferred casting fee, it's the adavnced fee PER principal lead of which there are three, AND, the agent asks me: 'Can we cap it at two months?'. So now we are looking at three times the fee and her services would only be available for two months. Naturellment, we said 'No expletive way!', well, to each other at least.

We counter offered with the original advance fee PLUS a co-producer credit and some back end points and after much to'ing and fro'ing we signed the deal memo. So far so good.

The casting director has gone out to three 'names' so far. We were forewarned with the two first names that this type of project was probably not what the clients were looking for right now which is agent-speak for 'we want to make money out of these actors and we're pushing them to do studio movies'. That, coupled with the reality that once some UK actors are on a certain trajectory they become obsessed with making it 'big in Hollywood' and therefore chase studio movies.

Anyway, it seems the script did go out to the names and within a month the two UK actors had officially passed. The casting director then approached another bigger name but we were immediately told by the agents that 'this wasn't the type of project he was looking for right now' (the usual 'cut and paste' response) BUT the agency, or rather what I assume is the talent co-ordinator at the agency (at one of the 'Big Four' outfits) offered up a list of alternative names for the lead role in my little ol' film.

There were some serious names on that list, so when we get back to them and say, 'him please' it will be interesting to see whether the script ACTUALLY goes out to said actor. The casting director has also received talent suggestions from other 'Big Four' agencies. We'll have a conference call this week where I am hoping to get a better idea of what's going on i.e. whether the script was well received, whether the producer-director team/project is being taken seriously etc, because, at the end of the day, we are not fully financed. We are in the standard indie Catch 22 situation i.e. need cast to get finance and need finance to get cast.

One positive piece of news came from the US manager of an actor I really like, albeit for the supporting role. The manager requested the script after receiving a breakdown on the project and according to the casting director she loved it, which can only be good. All fuel for the fire to propel the casting director moving forward. After all, it's her reputation that is on the line. In a way, at this point she's functioning as a quasi-agent, representing the project. So, we'll see, moving forward, if she is able to deliver the goods.

That was LA, now onto the UK. In March the director and I met a UK casting director that was really gung-ho for my black comedy. He LOVED it. Thought 'we had a hit on our hands' etc. I explained that we were still looking for a UK co-producer but that we were very interested. All good stuff. He then met my US producer and she loved him and she said that we should nail things down when she comes over to the UK which was meant to be last week. Unfortunately her finance fell through on another film and she had to fly to LA instead. She suggested that we all, instead, arrange a conference call, so, I drop the casting director an email to try and set it up.

The next thing I get a call from him. I think to myself: 'Great, this will be a nice friendly chat and we'll discuss setting up the conference call'. No siree, instead I get ambushed by this guy, going off on some bi-polar rant. WTF! He seemed totally offended at the suggestion of a conference call, insisted that he wanted to deal with me only (ironic, considering that I'm the WRITER!--although I am also the executive-producer) and he said I should call or email him with an offer. I tried to explain that the US producer was the LEAD producer and that the conference call was intended to do just that i.e. that since we could no longer all meet in person we would arrange a call to officially attach him, discuss terms etc. He wasn't having any of it. He insisted on only hearing from me, so, I emailed him with an offer. He passed saying other projects had now come in and he was too busy. 'nout so queer as folk' as they say in Yorkshire.

This incident felt like a double blow since I had received some disappointing news a week earlier regarding a UK co-producer.

My 'Foot in the door' post, chronicles my search, since October, for a UK co-producer. This has not been a walk in the park, to say the least. The tally so far is 49 passes. Yes that's four-ty ni-ne. Now, to put things in perspective: It wasn't and so far, isn't, all negative, in fact, there are still some opportunities that may result out of this campaign. Here is what happened:

Nine production companies were interested in the project, in one form or other i.e. the project or me/my writing. We/I met with all nine either in London or Cannes with the following result:
a) One UK producer was very interested, in fact, he, my US producer and myself all met in Cannes and he attached himself to the project. Great! Then, a few days before my US producer was due in town (which she had to cancel) he emailed me and said that his other projects which included a film fund were moving forward and he would have to 'un-attach' himself from the project. Now, considering all the time, effort and money I had expended in getting to this point I was not a happy bunny.
2) We met a second producer in Cannes who is still in the running. He seems to want to do a lot of development work on the script which I'm not too enthusiastic about. I'm hoping that, if he comes on board and we have a reading of the script combined with him meeting the director we will find a common consensus regarding development. We meet him again next week.
3) We met a third producer in the UK and Cannes who is more of an executive producer. He is setting up what seems like quite a complex and questionable funding structure. If I would get a dollar for every person who told me they were setting up a film get my drift. To cut a long story short: I won't be counting these chickens.
4) We met a fourth company. The development execs seemed to really like the project. We all met, got on well and they said they would pitch it higher up the chain. The 'higher ups' passed.
5) We met a major UK production company. The director of acquisitions told me that his 'trusted reader' had given a very positive report on the script and he said he would read it over the weekend. Cut to 3 months later. We met again and a week later we got the final decision: a pass.
6) We meet another production team who all seemingly love the writing BUT the other partner wasn't at the meeting AND hadn't read the script...oh. So, yes, you guessed it. A week later, I got an email: It's a pass.
7) In March, we meet another production team. The script had been positively evaluated in house. They met us but yet, again, the other partner, who we met with, had not read the script. A week later I get an email saying that, on consideration, they realized that they didn't have the time or resources to work on other projects.
8) I met with the head of production of a major UK company that had liked the writing in my black comedy and wanted to meet to see what else I was working on. No complaints there...all good stuff. It never hurts to build up a fan base.
9) Another UK company loved the writing in the black comedy and we met in Cannes. The offshoot of this meeting is that they are interested in commissioning me to rewrite a script. I read the script last week, gave my honest 'take' on it and we will meet next week when I, once again (!) will fly to the UK hoping to nail things down.

In addition to all this we have a very well respected sales agent interested in selling the project but the US producer, who they love and want to work with, doesn't want to nail them down until we find a UK co-producer. Another Catch 22, since having this sales agent formally attached would definitely be a big help in bagging a UK co-producer.

Essentially I've been spinning plates for about 9 months! It's been quite a rocky ride, one moment we had a very interested casting director and UK co-producer 'on-board' who both seemed perfect for the project then WHAM, the next thing, within a week or so it all went belly up.

I was listening to this clip of Tony Robbins the other day. He said when you encounter a problem (which in Latin means: to throw forth) you face it and you expand and grow from it. Yeah, right, thanks Tony. Still, he has a point. I always find the serenity prayer--accept the things you cannot change, have the courage to change the things you can--a great solace in times where you find yourself sliding down more snakes than climbing up ladders. Of course the epithet: 'Shit happens' sums it up pretty nicely too. ;-)

Still, there is a ray of light on the horizon: the black comedy was sent to the US manager of a UK actor, he liked the writing and passed it to the actor who is now reading. The sales agent is still interested and we are meeting the other potential UK co-producer next week and I will meet with the other team for yet another possible assignment. At least, so far, there are still a few pies in the oven.

On the representation front, which I am not actively pusuing, I had an interesting experience. In Cannes my US producer introduced me to a manager at a big LA management company regarding possible representation. The US producer was raving to the manager about my writing. I sent the manager my script. Since then? Nada, nichts, zilcho. Go figure?

Anyway, I can't sit around waiting for the Blackberry to buzz (although I do!). I had a notes meeting on the book adaptation commission yesterday and I need to move ahead with that. If truth be told the best therapy when you've landed some punches is writing. Just keep writing. It's hard because you want to be in a positive frame of mind when you sit down and write but when you are feeling down, uninspired it's hard to face the page. Lying in bed in the foetal position seems more of an option. LOL. Still, I forced myself, delivered some pages to the producer and felt better because ultimately in this business, the words on the page are the ONLY thing you have any control of, AND, the truth is: the more projects you have out there, the more chance there is that at least one of them gets made. Well, one would hope so and hope does spring eternal...

Ciao for now
SWU - swunderwoods[at]yahoo[dot]co[uk]