At the First Time Fest, accomplished filmmakers came to teach and advocate new filmmakers how to get their film made and how to make their film popular. As part of the How They Did It Panel Series, the “We Need A Bigger Boat-Producing Independent Cinema” panel had producers speak about the struggles they had not only making their first films, but also the films they’re working on right now.
Guests of the Producers Panel were Josh Astrachan, who produced Gosford’s Park, as well as Rose Ganguzza, whose latest and widely distributed film was Margin Call. Jonathan Grey was in attendance as well, having produced not only Margin Call but Machete as well recently. Dolly Hall, who produced 54, was there as well, with Bob Salerno talking about Arbitrage and Tim Perell, who produced The Rebound. The six producers spoke about their work as producers and how they had their films made with major problems, usually being the budget.
Here are some of the highlights from the panel:
Dolly Hall: Jon [Grey] and I worked together on the last two movies that I was producer of. The beginning of my career was working strictly with first time filmmakers, which wasn’t a choice; it was more of how it just happened. It seemed as if first time filmmakers came to me and I wanted to be involved in their story and I kind of call those the good old fashioned days of independent film. I worked a lot less in the studio than bob but I found that working with the new filmmakers is so interesting to me, working with them does haul a bigger boat so working is probably the life boat of all. And sometimes the budgetary constraints have been too much and sometimes we have to say this is not the story we want to tell and turn them down. That said I know how to make movies under budget levels, not that I aspire to do that
Rose Ganguzza: You’re going to give up everything you have, your stability, your paycheck, to do what I do. Everybody says that you get the film made, but what a producer does is stands behind everybody. But the process of making a film is a bit contagious, if you’re in love, if you’re passionate about the project, then you throw yourself into the filmmaking and that becomes this big whole thing. The films I’ve worked with, starting with New York I Love You, where I literally had to work with 12 directors from various countries who have never been in New York and have never even spoken English. Two of my most recent films, kill your darling with Daniel Radcliffe and the way I started was that I did my grad work in international affairs
Josh Astrachan: I got lucky by becoming a producer for Robert Altman and it was the best film I’ve worked on. I learned with writer directors and anyone really: you do what it takes.
Tim Perell: I made a variety of films with first time film makers which I found increasingly difficult. And working with first time directors you get smaller budgets but it’s still possible to make a movie. Last year I made three movies, one of which with a first time filmmakers.
Ganguzza: When it comes down to it, when you get the budget, you have to get and make the most of it.
Bob Salerno: Especially at this time, it really is a difficult, the industry is shrinking, its definitely contracting, so the typical financing ways of the past are really not working. There is a learning curve happening for all of us. It’s more difficult to make a small budget film now than it was before. It’s very geared towards big blockbusters.
Jonathan Grey: I have seen the industry change over the past couple of years – it starts with distribution and I have seen it kill the budgets. I’ve seen films that had money to spare and the distribution brought it way over budget.
Ganguzza: The other thing is the amount of pay you get for the actors.
Grey: If you get a little bit more, you can go from paying $933 to the actors to paying 2 grand a week to the actors. I’m not adverse to paying people- certainly these actors are working 14 hours a day- but at the same time, you’re not getting any more value at $2000 a week than you are at $933. The actors aren’t going to give up with the $933 a week because they’re passionate for it, but while I do believe in unions, I don’t believe in the extra teamster guys or the extra angle cameras needed because that’s what really busts a budget. In terms of getting a film made, don’t cast in dollars. Can one make a film with Ryan Gosling with half a million?
Ganguzza: That’s exactly the point. I’m working on a British television series where the actors have to have British accents- it’s a British show! And the casting agency really wanted to push this kid who I knew, and I asked if she was classically trained. They said no, but she’s the daughter of blank, a rather unappealing actor. But that’s what happens in LA, the la producers kept telling the director no you have to get this actress. I don’t believe in financing by the numbers
Grey: In financing by the numbers, you reach a certain limit and you’re relying on foreign sales. Those sales are based largely on the talents- sometimes it the cast, sometimes it’s the directors.
Salerno: But that’s the other thing, when the moviegoers in France or Germany see a little independent film, they don’t want to go see that U.S. independent, they want to go see their French or German film.
Hall: That’s why you need an angel, you need an angel to show up and say we love this movie. Like when making the Daniel Radcliffe movie, the financers wondered how the movie would open without Daniel holding a wand in his hand. But fortunately there was a show he opened earlier that year and it became acclaimed, and that’s how the film got made.
Grey: But I also learned that there’s a complete study to how actors work. It’s amazing to what makes them tick. Because talent is such an important element, that’s been my biggest thing in my career because you have to push them and get them to work.
Hall: Well, to say it, first time directors are good stalkers. More and more producers and actors and even directors in the film industry are moving to Broadway so if you really are passionate, go stand by the stage door and wait for them to pass by or even slip the guy guarding the stage door your script. But watch TV, because a lot of the younger actors on their hiatus want to stretch their acting careers and they’re willing to do small indie films. And some of them are much better actors than they get a chance to show.
Grey: There are a lot of people out there whose only talent is to write a check and they feel that that should allow them a producer credit. They don’t have to be on set, they don’t have to do anything, they write the check and they feel like they own your film.
Overall, all the producers stressed that if you really want to get a film made, get yourself out there and make a name for yourself. Attend workshops and visit theaters in your area. And when you finally have that finished project done, use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to get the word out on your masterpiece. Sooner or later, your work will get appreciated.