Industry Report: Produce - Coproduce...
Berlinale 2006 Co-production Market - Case study: Bring the Green to the Screen
by Frédéric Violeau
06/04/2006 - Moderated by John Durie from Cineuropa.org with the participation of José Maria Morales (Wanda Films – Spain), Sophokles Tasioulis (Greenlight Media – Germany) for The Great Match [trailer] (La gran final) and John Battsek (Passion Pictures - UK) for Once in a Lifetime
John Durie: José Maria Morales, could you tell us how the project that was presented last year at the co-production market came together? What kind of co-producing or co-financing agreement were you looking for at the first stage of the project?
José Maria Morales: The Berlinale co-production market was the starting point for the film. The film at that time had four stories, one more than once finished. Talking to possible co-producers, we realised four stories would be too many to really be able to link them together so we dropped one and kept the Mongolian, Ténéré and Amazonian stories. We met Sophokles from Greenlight Media, with whom we had already worked together on Deep Blue, which he produced and we bought for Spain. Greenlight was quite enthusiastic about the project and although we had other possibilities we finally made it with them.
The structure of the financing is very simple. I wanted to have a 20% share and, if possible, a German co-producer. Why a German one? Well, first of all because we are in Berlin. Second, because my idea from the very beginning was to have the film ready for the beginning of this year when the World Cup will take place in Germany. And we succeeded in doing this. On top of the German 20%, from Spain we had the approval of TVE, the Spanish public television station, almost the only one that is in involved in the non-classical type of film, the riskier films. We also have public funding from the ICAA who gave us about 33% of the budget and then our own investment also as a distributor.
John Durie: Sophokles, could you tell us how you got involved in this particular project? And as a German minority co-producer what were you looking for?
Sophokles Tasioulis: As José Maria said, we had an ongoing relationship so we knew each other before. Greenlight Media is mainly involved in documentaries but we wanted to get involved in features projects. And The Great Match was a very nice first step into this new business in the sense that Gerardo Olivares comes from the documentary as well; he has made many films. For us it was a way to keep doing what we are used to doing because the way the film is made it’s almost filmed like a documentary. He has quite a lot of experience in filming people. So when José Maria came up with the project, we immediately fell in love with it.
We thought it wouldn’t be an easy project because there are no stars, no famous director: it had not a single sellable element! We did think quite a lot about entering the project but the budget was small enough for us to say: OK, let’s go for it. We thought this was a topic that could work around the world and this is what we do at Greenlight, we try to make films for an international audience. Football, we thought, is a topic unique enough that would work in many territories.
John Durie: Is it the first film for this director?
Sophokles Tasioulis: Yes!
John Durie: And the budget was…? Just to give an idea to the audience…
José Maria Morales: Well, we had a discussion about that. The real budget, the production budget, was €2.2 million, although …
Sophokles Tasioulis: … it’s really the money used for the film. None of us get paid, no overheads for the companies. It’s only the money that went into the making of the film.
John Durie: I now want to come to John Battsek, documentary maker based in the UK and producer at Passion Pictures, who produced Once in a Lifetime and also won an Academy Award for One Day in September. So John, tell us about Once in a Lifetime, is it historical, is it football, is it nostalgia? And how did you get your budget together? And eventually I also want to know how much you paid for all this fantastic music?
John Battsek: The film is all of these things, it is a football film, as well as a nostalgic film. To give you my experience with feature documentaries, I have taken money from wherever it comes. I have always had the support of the BBC and then I use this support to raise confidence from other partners from all around the world. For this specific movie, it is a very American movie but I imagined I would be able to raise a significant amount of money from other countries starting with the BBC. Traditionally I go to France or Germany to try and generate the finance I need to make the film.
I am actually a huge sport fan. And football is by far the most popular sport in the world. I have always been kind of intrigued by the fact that America is the only country in the world that seems not to embrace what the rest of the world does. I thought there was a very interesting story to be told and I also thought that because football is so popular there would be a strong market for this film all over the world. And it was set in New York, which is an incredible city, and at an incredible time. It turns out that the New York Cosmos is an archetypal American story. The team was owned and run by Warner Communication which became Warner Brothers and Atlantic records, so two huge entertainment businesses which did what Americans are very good at doing: they took something they did not understand, they moulded it into something they hoped people would understand and embraced it in a spectacular way.
What I found with all the documentaries that I have made is that audiences are thrilled and compelled by retrospective pieces, particularly the recent piece which has great music, ridiculous fashion, massive afro haircuts, amazing music and fundamentally a great story are what is needed for all films and documentaries to work.
John Durie: Did you get the money you were hoping to get from the US?
John Battsek: Actually we did. My partner for this film, Greenstreet, was very supportive. Apart from the BBC, ultimately all the rest of the money came from America.
John Durie: Sophokles, you got your financing together, you’re making the film, how did you get your international sales company, The Match Factory? When and how did you get them?
Sophokles Tasioulis: With The Great Match we had quite an interesting case in the sense that “how do you presell a film with no known elements?”. It is very difficult to get money upfront because we had a script of only 40 pages. Normally distributors buy films based on a script or people attached, and none of this played a major role for us. So we decided to wait and finish the film since we knew that afterwards we would have a much stronger sell.
We discussed that with José Maria and agreed we could afford us to wait and present the film at a festival where the film would have more attention. And that’s what we are doing now in Berlin. We haven’t made a single sell before now.
John Durie: What do you think interested The Match Factory in your film?
José Maria Morales: The Match Factory is a new company. I knew Michael Weber from Bavaria and we had a long relationship. At the beginning I wanted to work with Bavaria but Michael launched his new company and I’m happy he is selling our film.
We had no minimum guarantee and I will tell you why. We had the film already financed so we preferred to reduce the percentage of commission the seller would take and let him sell the film once he was ready.
John Durie: And that is what is happening this week in Berlin…
José Maria Morales: Exactly!
John Durie: John, what is your strategy with Greenstreet in terms of international launch and attracting buyers who might feel that another football film in the year of the World Cup may be an over saturation. How did you deal with the buyers?
John Battsek: You have to convince buyers and the audience that it is not just a football film. That is something you have to do as a producer: sell the not-so-obvious elements of the film. I think all you can do is play the strength of your story and in the case of our film it has got a lot more than the fundamental football story.
Greenstreet’s strategy has always been to target a major festival where you are going to launch your film and that is kind of a standard strategy.
I think the film is strong enough that just prior to Berlin the film was bought by Miramax and ESPN for the USA and it has already been bought by Pathé for the UK. So we had the endorsement of two very strong theatrical distributors who are releasing the film aggressively theatrically and I think this is what buyers want to see. They want to see the confidence of others.
John Durie: Does it mean that they bought the film before any trade reviews were published? Can you tell how you approach them? Was it a matter of relationship, the subject, or the price?
John Battsek: In the case of Pathé it was based on the strength of a show-reel that they saw in Cannes actually a couple of years ago because the film took a very long time be made. They bought the film for the UK without TV since we had already the BBC on board.
In the case of Miramax, well it is not what it seems, but my brother now runs Miramax. But the truth is that they loved the film and it plays incredibly well to audiences. And in this business you can be father and son or brothers, but nobody is going to invest money in a film that will not make them earn money. If one is lucky enough to make a good film, and this is a good film because I have made bad films in the past so I know the difference, and you have screenings where people sit in and laugh their head off, it’s a great experience. That is the ideal scenario.
Our strategy here was “we got to get trade reviews, we got to get trade reviews” because no matter if we tell the buyers how great our film is, it is our job as producers, so we have been struggling to make sure we would have the reviews. Happily we now have great reviews that are huge tools in trying to make the buyers have faith in the film.
John Durie: José Maria, about the 80% from Spain, what was the position you were taking on any ancillary or special media? I would like you to tell the producers if it was a standard way of financing the film or to use new media, Internet, Video On Demand?
José Maria Morales: Our case is special because we are a distribution company and we have a DVD distributor as well. We can take part of the risk with a minimum guarantee from the distribution company and we more or less know how much the film can make on DVD. New technologies are indeed very important and we have to take them into consideration. We have created a new division for new technologies because the Internet rights are important, and we don’t want to get rid of them.
John Durie: Will Spain be the first country to release the film?
José Maria Morales: I think so. We want to take the film to the Malaga film festival and from there we want to do the promotion.
John Durie: Both films have incredibly powerful soundtracks that really drive the film. Sophokles how did that come about?
Sophokles Tasioulis: The challenge with The Great Match is that we have three parallel stories in three different remote parts of the world. The question was: “how can we connect these stories?” And I knew a composer who is very experienced in world music, who has been in each of these parts of the world to record music. We let him connect the stories and it turned out to be a very good decision.
John Durie: Will you release the soundtrack and use that in the marketing?
Sophokles Tasioulis: Absolutely!
John Durie: Was it difficult clearing the rights for this music?
John Battsek: Yes, it is always difficult clearing the rights for any film. I’m obsessed with ancillary rights. I’m obsessed with the idea that when the film is in cinemas, you go to the bookshop and you see the book, and when you go to the record store you see the soundtrack. On this film we have a UK/US book deal, and a UK album deal.
In terms of music the thing is that I just won’t accept a “no” from anyone regarding the music I want for the film. The only thing one needs to have as a producer is the courage of one’s conviction. It’s really as simple as that. You go to the music company and convince them that it’s a good idea, it’s a film that is going to do well, it has the potential music-wise to create an album that can sell.
On Once in a Lifetime, I went to Universal records with my music supervisor and we told them “look at the period we are filming, what kind of music do you have?” Then I told them: “If you let us have your music for peanuts, we’ll use only your music in our film.” For a record company it is something that appeals because they think it could be an entirely Universal album. They know they won’t make a lot of money with the film rights but it will be all their music, they can make an album. With that point you can convince them that it’s a concept that is going to work.
It’s really one of the most difficult parts in making a film but we have 42 songs in this film!
John Durie: Did you have to show footage?
John Battsek: Yes, sometimes you have to show footage, sometimes you don’t. It really helps if you have a music supervisor that has a great relationship with the record company.
Sophokles Tasioulis: I believe ancillary rights, books and records, are much more about the exposure the film will get. It’s not a business in the sense that the producer won’t make revenue from them.
John Battsek: You are absolutely right. Unless you are lucky and make a film like Trainspotting. It is indeed definitely about exposure.
The last thing I wanted to say is that the role of sales company has been influential for me. Sales companies can help producers significantly to raise co-production finance to make the film, not only to sell the film once it’s done. And I think since documentary budgets are getting bigger and bigger, sales companies can an important role in helping you raise your money.
John Durie: What have been your experiences about having a website for the promotion of the film?
José Maria Morales: We have the general webpage of the company on which we put all information about the film. But we are working on a special one for this film.
Sophokles Tasioulis: I think a website is a way to start word of mouth about the film. It is work, but with a little investment it will pay off in the end.
John Battsek: Distributors set up websites like Pathé for distribution on May 19. Also if you make a film that has archives in it there can be some issues about showing them on the internet.
The audience: Are your films suitable for the very small screens that are sold now to watch a film anywhere?
Sophokles Tasioulis: Well, let me ask the question back: which film is?
José Maria Morales: In Spain, I know people who are starting to produce films just for these screens.
The audience: Mr Battsek, how much did you pay for the music rights?
John Battsek: Again, about music rights the question is as simple as going to the record company and telling them this what you are ready to pay to use their music in the film. What I do is send letters to the companies explaining that “yes they are not going to get rich with the money we give them upfront but I have work four years on the project, etc.”
Ultimately I have been very lucky because I have worked with companies that accepted as low licences as one can possibly imagine or expect. The truth is one can not pay £15,000 to £25,000 because then you can’t make your film with the budget you have. It is really a question of me convincing them. I paid around £2,000 for all rights , everywhere and for ever.
The audience: Does it mean that you make no revenue from the sales of the album?
John Battsek: No, we have rights over the album. But when you are not a big player you are not going to get a big over right. On the previous film we made money from the album.
John Durie: I just would like to have a comment from each of the producers before these two days of intense co-production discussions.
Sophokles Tasioulis: I think a producer is often focused on making the film and then he lets it go. But a producer is much more successful when he understands the market and how the world sales companies work. You have to listen to them more than to yourself.
José Maria Morales: For me two things: passion and knowing your producers. That’s why for me the Berlinale co-production market is one of the best platforms in the world.
John Battsek: I think one should just try to be realistic about the film they are trying to make, how they are going to make it, how much they think they should spend. One has got to be honest about the limitations or the lack of limitations and the size the film should be.