Thursday, June 30, 2016

MEET THE PRODUCERS: Interview With Keith Calder. Bunraku, You're Next, Anomalisa, The Guest, The Wackness

This is the third installment in the ongoing series Meet the Producers of Midnight Madness 2010.

Let me introduce you to Keith Calder. Mr. Calder arrived on the film scene as an executive producer for the Midnight Madness film All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. In subsequent years he has also produced such films as Battle For Terra and The Wackness and is executive producing Walter Hill's next film St. Vincent. Bunraku marks Mr. Calder's return to the Midnight Madness program.

It has been five years since you produced All The Boys Loved Mandy Lane. What changes have you seen in the business side of the film industry in those five years?

In all honesty, it's hard for me to separate my own personal experience from the overall business. When we shot ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, I was a year out of film school. I thought I knew how to make movies, and I thought I knew how the film business worked. Here I am five years later, and I realize that I'm only just starting to learn how to make movies and how the film business works. It's hard for me to tell how much the film business has changed, and how much of the perceived "change" is just me understanding the film business better. But with my current understanding of the film business, I'll try to answer as best I can. The biggest change I've seen in the film business over the last five years is that it's now easier to get talented people to want to work on your independent film, but it's harder to sell your finished film.

Bunraku was financed outside the studio system yet attracted top name talent,. How did so many name actors sign onto the project?

We had a pretty hefty package of material that we presented to actors when we approached them to be in BUNRAKU. We had the screenplay, and a DVD of concept art, previz, and style clips. On top of that, Guy Moshe is obviously a talented and compelling director and the actors were drawn to the idea of working with him on the film. I think that a lot of the actors were taking a big risk coming a board an independent film like this, but their doubts were answered after a couple days working with Guy, the rest of the cast, and our incredible crew.

There is always pressure for a film to perform well in the box office and I'm sure this pressure has increased ten-fold in recent years. Does this pressure ever affect the vision of a film? Is there ever a temptation to make a film more mainstream and more accessible?

The short answer is easy: Yes, there is always a temptation to make a film more mainstream and more accessible.

The long answer is more complicated. With every film I produce, I try to make a classic of the genre. It may sound egotistical to say that, but I think there's no other way to be successful in this business. You aim for greatness, so if you fall short you still have a good film. If you aim for "good-enough", you'll end up landing at "piece-of-crap". So with a big independent film like BUNRAKU we took on a huge risk, but we only did so because we believed it had the potential to be a classic of the genre. It's too soon to say if we landed close to our mark, but when your goals are that lofty you start to worry less about "accessible" and "mainstream". "Accessible" and "mainstream" are really sub-goals of "awesome" and "great". If it's great enough, then it becomes accessible. If it's awesome enough, then it becomes mainstream. So yes, I always try to make my films mainstream and accessible, just not by dumbing them down or sacrificing the craft.

This interview first appeared 09/10/10 on the TIFF Midnight Madness Blog 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

MEET THE PRODUCERS: An Interview with Ted Hope

Midnight Madness Producers Part 2: Ted Hope - SUPER

This is the second in an ongoing series, Meet The Producers Of Midnight Madness 2010.

Let me introduce you to Ted Hope. He is a producer that has many years of experience in the film industry and he is very generous with the vast knowledge he has acquired throughout his career.

In the late 1980s, American independent film burst on the scene with the promise of new visions, new stories, and new approaches. Ted Hope was among the first producers to emerge from the pack and one of the few today consistently delivering vital and exciting new work. With partner Anne Carey, Hope is the co-founder of New York production company This is That. In six years, This is That has produced seventeen features. A survey of Hope’s work, numbering over fifty films, includes many highlights and breakthroughs of the last two decades. Ted’s films have received numerous awards, including three Academy Award Best Screenplay nominations. He is currently the head of motion pictures for Amazon Studios.

You recently wrote that there are two determining factors on how your films are made: superior quality of the material, and the willingness of the collaborators to make great sacrifices. In regards to Super, could you talk about some of the sacrifices you and your team made to realize the film?

Super was a wonderful example of team work. We communicated our limitations to everyone before they signed on, and with only one exception, everyone recognizes that we were in it together. Indie filmmaking is a demonstration on the interconnectedness of all things. If you go over on the wardrobe budget, it means you can't license the music you want at the end of the day. The cast and crew got this. No one had anything beyond the essentials. We were lean and mean, a rapid Super shooting machine. It was always about the movie and not the perks. The crew had the best housing -- and Miranda, James, and I had the worst.

This isn't the kind of movie that gets made every day and every one indicated that they knew it was a privilege to be part of it. Yet, you can't ask people to do their best work and truly give their all, if such an example of commitment wasn't embraced from the top down. James Gunn's enthusiasm, passion, and preparedness was infectious. He was first to arrive and knew what he wanted. He made his process transparent and was the first to enforce the necessity to move fast. The team organized so well around him that we never had to sacrifice quality.

We have seen most of the studio "independents" fall by the wayside recently. It seems to me the film business is becoming huge studio productions and small DIY films. What is your take on the current state of the film-making business? Do you foresee anyone stepping in to replace medium budgeted productions?

It's true that the middle ground has vanished. I feel fortunate to have been able to work at a time and at a pace that I have been able to establish a track record of quality films produced at limited budgets that deliver profitable results. It is going to be really difficult to create challenging work unless it embraces minimal budgets or utilizes audience appealing genres. It is really surprising to me that there are not more companies committed to the space that once was occupied by the likes of New Line & Dimension.

With the polarities of content and budget prominent in the industry today, actors are struggling to find roles that allow them to truly create unique characters in unique situations. It is the best time to cast challenging material that I have ever experienced. Good actors need good work. I have been really impressed with the quality of actor-centric genre films from all over the globe this past year, from MOON to HOUSE OF THE DEVIL to THE SQUARE to THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED to THE PROPHET to ANIMAL KINGDOM. These are awesome films with real audience appeal, albeit not at the largest numbers but at defined, easy to reach, internationally appealing strands. There is good business to be done, and new technologies to deliver it. Once folks on all sides realize where we really are right now, audiences are going to experience a golden age of great work.

You have also written that "being a film producer requires abandoning the concept that you work for a living." Could you elaborate on this?

I was very fortunate to start producing when I did in the late '80s. The business had changed and the mainstream infrastructure failed to acknowledge it for almost a decade. I benefited for fifteen years by that oversight. The film business has changed again, but our methods, models, and work still is based on practices of many years ago. We are not living and working in the present. Our work currently is not able to extract it's full value from utilizing the current practices and platforms.

Because film is currently a capital intensive growth-focused industry, we will forever be experiencing boom and bust cycles, and the tragedies that come with it. Those that have the capital generally establish footholds and gates that allow to maximize earnings from the labor and art of others -- they take the risk and reap the benefits as a result, or at least that's the structure of the world we work in. Creators and artists are first concerned with getting their work made; this desire makes them vulnerable and they are exploited.

Early on, I was asked whether I was a filmmaker or a businessman. I thought I could be both, but when you care first and foremost about your film, you are willing to make great sacrifices to get your movie made. I work to get my movies made -- and still can earn a living doing that. IMHO, movies are too hard to make well to make anything other than what you care about. Once you reveal you care, you are open to being exploited, even by your partners. Even if I am not being fairly compensated, I am still happy to be able to support myself and all the others I employ, by working at creating movies I am passionate about. I would shoot myself if I had to create the crap that is generally passed off as entertainment these days, but you can earn a living producing it! At least, I still have that choice!

This Interview first appeared 09/08/10 on the TIFF Midnight Madness Blog

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

MEET THE PRODUCERS: Interview With Peter Block John Carpenter's The Ward

Midnight Madness Producers Part 1: Peter Block - JOHN CARPENTER'S THE WARD

This is the first in an ongoing series, Meeting The Producers Of Midnight Madness 2010.

Don't let the big name talent fool you, the ten films that make up this year's Midnight Madness program have all been made outside of the traditional Hollywood studio system. These ten independent features have all faced their own challenges and the standard ones of not enough time and not enough money. I recently had the opportunity to pose questions to the producers of the films so please follow me as we Meet the Producers of Midnight Madness 2010. Let me introduce you to Peter Block.

Mr. Block, formerly was President of acquisitions and co-productions of Lionsgate. In 2008 he formed A Bigger Boat productions in order to produce and distribute genre films and television.

What did you learn from being the President of Acquisitions & Co-Productions at Lionsgate that informed your decision to form your own production company A Bigger Boat in 2008?

What I had learned in my time at Lionsgate, and as far back as the early '90s when I found that a company could actually exist on a slate of straight to video horror titles, and sometimes you discovered fantastic new directors, such as Guillermo del Toro, "Cronos" and Peter Jackson "Dead Alive". I also learned that the horror audience was vibrant, dedicated and social. Whether the films were good or bad, was often not nearly as important as whether there was a great death scene, or even a really bad line-reading. The audience showed up again and again and shared their experiences with one another.

By 2008, I had spent the better part of a decade at Lionsgate, and had been able to chart its course into the genre world from the arthouse circuit; I can still recall the great conversation when we were able to convince Chairman Jon Feltheimer that (a) "House Of 1000 Corpses" really was an arthouse movie (perhaps one for an outhouse crowd), and (b) that he should never watch it. So began a great trajectory beginning with "Cabin Fever", right here at TIFF, which allowed us to not only play in the genre sandbox, but to dig deep for hidden gems that other studios wouldn't touch, like "Devil's Rejects", "Hard Candy" and "The Descent". After spending time finding and producing commercial (Saw, Crank, Open Water) and critical (Crash, Girl With A Pearl Earring, Fido) successes for the company, I had a chance to fully delve into the indie producing world, while at the same time further exploring some of my genre sensibilities. There were stories I was still interested in telling, and directors (like genre-fave Adam Green, new-comers like Mark Tonderai and the legendary John Carpenter) that I wanted to work with. Plus, in A Bigger Boat, I already had a great company name picked out and, with the help of my pal Tim Williams, a fun animated logo...

The Ward was made outside of the studio system, what were some of the unique challenges this presented?

The Ward was made outside of the studio system for a variety of reasons. Firstly, we (my partners at Echo Lake Productions, and I) wanted to entice John Carpenter to direct the movie, and we knew John was partial to his independence (we found out later that that sentiment extended to "from producers" as well!). Secondly, the industry was changing. Studios were less interested in lower budgeted genre fare, in favor of tent-pole releases with name stars to drive ticket sales, and with it corporate earnings and stock prices. Along those same lines, most studios are more interested in keeping cost commitments as low as possible, preferring to explore co-production ventures, off-balance sheet financing, and pursuing post-production acquisitions over pre-production financial commitments.

So, while no studio came aboard before we made The Ward, it did open up some possibilities elsewhere. Many foreign territories have distributors with output deals with different Hollywood studios, and their offerings reflect largely what the studio feeds them. So your film doesn't always end up with the right distributor overseas, but rather the one with whom the studio has a pre-existing relationship. We got to approach each territory separately, and our foreign sales partner --- Glen Basner's FilmNation --- did a masterful job setting us up with enough pre-sales overseas --- to distributors excited at the prospect of a new John Carpenter film --- that we were able to finance the movie, albeit with less than John or we hoped. And so began the search for where to shoot, a decision complicated by the ever-changing exchange rate of the U.S. Dollar. So initial explorations of Toronto and Winnipeg eventually gave way to a terrific team in Spokane Washington, which had an unknown production team but a great tax rebate program. But in then end, it all comes down to not the elements you don't have, but the quality of the ones you do, and we have a great story, a camera-friendly and talented cast, and a director who knows a thing or two about the art of the scare. I'd say we're doing ok.

I recently spoke with David Cronenberg and he said that in today's climate your past track record does not matter anymore. Each film has to be tackled as though it was your first project. You yourself have an impressive track record, how are you finding the business of raising money for a project?

I think David's right in some regards, but let's not forget: he's David Cronenberg, and he's done some of his most outstanding work lately with "Eastern Promises" and "History Of Violence". So I could disagree and say his body of work makes him ever-relevant, and at the same time his recent work is so strong that anyone would love to have the opportunity to be involved with a new project. But overall he's correct and it's as much a function of the "what have you done for me lately?" mentality as it is a matter that studio needs (and studio personnel) are ever-changing, coupled with the collapsing of industry windows and revenue streams.

Moreover, movie years are like dog years: by the time your movie gets made, released and finds it's way to a studio (non)profit statement, another 600 films have come and gone through theaters, to say nothing of those that bypass theatrical altogether. By the time you want to make a follow-up to your movie, the first one has been released and critiqued, amortized and analyzed, and most likely already replicated enough times so that's it's either deemed a classic or already forgotten. And all of that is further enhanced by the fact that everyone's always looking for a reason to say "no"; rarely does anyone get fired for not green-lighting a project, but the corollary isn't always true. So you've got to make sure your successes are recent enough to stay relevant in an ever-changing marketplace, and you've got to have a package that demands a "yes" when both economics and job preservation dictate otherwise. In other words, I'm no longer the guy responsible for "Saw" or "Open Water" or "The Descent"; I'm just the guy who this year made "Frozen" and The Ward and released "The Disappearance Of Alice Creed". And I'm hoping I can still get the director of "Scanners" on the phone.

 This Interview first appeared 09/07/10 at the Tiff Midnight Madness Blog

Monday, June 27, 2016

SOUTHBOUND: World Premiere Interviews with Brad Miska Roxanne Benjamin, Patrick Horvath

                                                Brad Miska speaks with Robert A. Mitchell

Southbound received it's world premiere at the 2015 Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is a horror anthology. Five interlocking tales of terror follow the fates of a group of weary travelers who confront their worst nightmares - and darkest secrets - over one long night on a desolate stretch of desert highway. Robert A. Mitchell was on the red carpet and spoke with Director/Writers Roxanne Benjamin and Patrick Horvath as well as producer Brad Miska.