In 1991, Fine Line was humming on all cylinders. In our first year, we had already hit gold both commercially (My Own Private Idaho) and critically (Angel at My Table), and had a solid slate of upcoming releases. Looking forward, however, it seemed like there weren’t a whole lot of promising potential acquisitions.
A script came across my desk called “Waterland.” Nicholas Roeg was attached to direct, and the script, which was based on a beloved British novel, was long and unwieldy. The book it was based was commonly deemed to be “unfilmable.” Initially, we—and I’m guessing all the other specialized distributors—passed on it.
Later that year, the project came back with a new script, with a new director (Stephen Gyllenhaal) and with Jeremy Irons attached to star. The cast also included Ethan Hawke, Cara Buono, John Heard and the debut of future “Game of Thrones” star Lena Headey. Compared to the original version, it seemed that the script had wrestled the density of the novel down to a very personal story—one that we thought would touch people. The price tag to pre-buy the North American rights was reasonable, and we were hungry for product. We made the deal; it was Fine Line’s first investment in production. Continue reading “Rediscovering “Waterland””
When people in the movie business talk about unexpected results, they are usually talking about sure-fire hits that ended up not working. Every once in a while the opposite is true. Such was the case with “Diva.”
The first time I saw “Diva” was in a small screening room in the United Artists building at 729 Seventh Ave. It had been brought to the U.A. Classics team by Norbert Auerbach, who was running U.A.’s international division at the time, and if I’m remembering correctly, it was his wife who had recommended the film. While we found it enjoyable, we passed on it. It just seemed too pop and too mainstream for the art film audience we were used to catering to. It had already opened and flopped in France.
Several months later, I was at the Toronto Film Festival. The moment I arrived I was accosted by David Overbey, a prominent film critic and programmer for the festival, who tried to convince me to see “Diva,” which was emerging as the hit of the festival. I told him we’d seen it and already passed. At that point, the film’s director, Jean-Jacques Beineix, began to stalk me. Every party I went to, he was there and in my face. He told me of the incredible reaction the film was getting, the fact that the festival had already scheduled additional screenings, pleading with me to see it again with an audience. So finally, I gave in and went to a screening. And yes, the audience response was electric.
In my Business of Film class at Columbia, I’ve talked for many years about how unforeseeable events can affect the success or failure of a film in the marketplace. I’ve seen and worked on many films that would be examples of this, but no film I’ve ever been involved with had such a dramatic date with fate as Tanya Wexler’s second feature, “Ball in the House.”
My first collaboration with Tanya, an alum of the Columbia MFA Film Program, was as Producer’s Rep on her first feature, “Finding North.” The film was modest in scope, but beautifully acted and directed, and packed an emotional wallop at the end. It premiered to much acclaim at SXSW, ending up with a theatrical release through Cowboy Booking. I was eager to work with Tanya again.
The folks at the Toronto Film Festival have just posted my keynote from their annual Filmmaker Boot Camp, a sort of retreat where they prepare filmmakers for their experience at TIFF. This is the second time they’ve asked me to do this, and given that Toronto is one of my favorite festivals, I’m glad to be of service.
The information I presented is a summary of some presentations I’ve made in my classes at Columbia, and at various other events. It’s a quick overview of the current marketplace, followed by some specific strategies one might use to navigate a festival like Toronto, and to make the best of the experience. I hope those of you who couldn’t be there will find something useful in it.
This was a fun and informative panel at this past year’s Toronto International Film Festival, in which Christine Vachon, Cinedigm’s Jeff Reichert and BOND Strategy and Influence’s Marc Schiller discussed social networking strategies for independent film marketing. By the way, I was the moderator.
I ran into an exhibitor friend at the Toronto Film Festival (who shall remain nameless) and he went off about how unhappy he was about having signed a VPF deal in order to convert his theaters to Hollywood’s version of digital projection equipment. We talked about all the various implications of the deal, which I’ve outlined in a previous post. But he brought up another angle that I hadn’t realized before.
In order to be eligible for a VPF deal, an exhibitor has to guarantee a certain number of “turns” per screen per year. A “turn” is when you dump the film you are playing and bring in a new one, which then requires the distributor of that new film to pay a VPF fee. The more “turns” the more your equipment has been subsidized. Continue reading “More bad news about VPFs…or is it?”
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Filmmakers Bootcamp, an annual event at the TIFF Lightbox to prepare the Canadian filmmakers for their experience at the Toronto Film Festival. Given the nature of the event, I decided to emphasize practical advice about making the most of the experience. Since the audience was limited to Canadian filmmakers, the good folks at TIFF recorded the session and have made it available on line. Here it is in its entirety, with the hope that it might be of help to others of you who might be navigating Toronto for the first time.
It was with a combination of hope and fear that we approached the George Washington Bridge. The first sign of the new world we had entered was the substantial police presence at the toll plaza.
Then from the bridge, we got our first glimpse of the new skyline. Beth recalls it being like a blow to the solar plexus. We were both getting choked up. Beth started to cry.
Entering our apartment provided a sense of security that only “home” can provide, no matter that everything outside was now different.
But our little adventure was over. Our hurried trip as a family to Toronto, Chicago and back had served many purposes. Born out of the perceived need to deliver a film print and to deliver our son to college, it turned into a family catharsis. We were able to work through our anger, our fears and a whole host of other issues, and to do it as a family. By staying together, we instinctively knew that whatever was to come, we would deal with it… together. And by staying on the move, we avoided sitting in front of the television and wallowing. In other words, we dealt with this new threat in our lives by staying busy. Continue reading “10 Years Ago…A Family Odyssey (Final Chapter)”
Part 1 of this article can be found here, and part 2 can be found here.
Day Three: Thursday September 13, 2001
When I awoke the next morning, Beth was already out and about. I went off to deliver the 35mm print of “Ball in the House” and to arrange for a tech check later in the day. The streets in Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood were not bustling the way they usually are in the middle of the festival. Walking back to the hotel, I ran into Paul Cohen, then the head of Manhattan Pictures. He greeted me with “Have you found a way back to New York yet?” I responded, “I just got here last night.” He said “You’re kidding.” I explained that I had driven up to deliver the print and to premiere my film. He informed me that all the Americans at the festival were gone already or were desperately trying to get home, by whatever means necessary. My heart sank as I realized that whatever hopes we had of making a distribution deal on the film at the festival were pretty much over.
I found Beth back in the hotel room with the kids. She told me she had gotten up early and gone into the underground shopping mall that lies beneath the Marriott to get coffee. She bought a local newspaper, sat down with her coffee and as she started reading, she began to cry. That newspaper was to be the beginning of a collection of local newspapers that she began to acquire as we continued our trip. Continue reading “10 Years Ago…A Family Odyssey (part 3)”
When morning arrived, the apartment started to empty out. Subway service had been partially restored, and there was now a way for everyone to get home. Everyone, that is, except for Laura and her kids. Their Tribeca loft was still in a cordoned off zone, and it was unclear how much longer she would be kept from going home.
The phone rang, and it was a perfect stranger. This person wanted to reach out to a New Yorker to express her solidarity, so she dialed 212 and then her own phone number, hoping to reach someone that way. I thanked her for her good wishes, and it crossed my mind that this was the first time I had ever experienced being considered a “victim.” Continue reading “10 Years Ago…A Family Odyssey (part 2)”