REPORT: Maia Workshops - Legal and Financial Issues
by Elisa Cimino
The Maia Workshops - Legal and Financial Issues 2014 took place in Merseburg, Germany, from 23 - 27 June
The second module of the ninth edition of the Maia Workshops 2014 took place in Merseburg, near Halle, Germany, from 23-27 June. After the Creative Aspects workshop that was held in Italy in March, the second module focused on the Legal and Financial Issues of film production.
The workshop was aimed at analysing the role of the producer and the strategies used to present a project to partners and financiers; trainers gave useful tips about producing with a small budget and shared their knowledge on how to structure a viable financial plan. Practical exercises on a three-country co-production and an overview of new media and online marketing tools completed the five-day workshop. Lectures were combined with participative group work and meetings with professionals.
Twenty emerging producers from all over Europe were selected to participate in the Maia Workshops. Most producer presented a project in development and received feedback during group work and one-to-one meetings throughout the workshop.
On the first day, Katriel Schory, executive director of the Israeli Film Fund, gave useful suggestions about how to present a project in order to obtain support from financiers.
A basic rule emerged at Maia – not only from Schory’s presentation, but also in general from all the experts’ advice: a producer should be extremely convinced about the film he is going to present; he must love it and be prepared to defend it. The film industry nowadays is full of interesting projects, but its resources are limited. In order to obtain funding, first of all it is necessary to have a good story. Secondly, the producer looking for financing must provide a good pitch and be persuasive enough to convince the other party that his own project is worth funding.
In order to do that, according to Schory, a producer must have a clear picture of what he is going to say while meeting a possible financier. While in the past the script was at the centre of the decision-making process, now that attention has shifted to the director’s vision, expressed at its best in the note of intentions of the director or producer, and their ability to explain the story and make it understandable and interesting for other people.
Before pitching a project, a producer must answer three basic questions: What is it all about? How? And why? Being able to answer these questions means that you have already got a considerable part of the job done.
As Schory firmly repeated to participants, before meeting anyone and asking for support, a producer must “do his homework”. Before meeting a hypothetical financier, it is necessary to know who he is, what he does, how he works and what he likes. This is essential in order to be able to prepare a good pitch.
In this interview, Katriel Schory gives some suggestions to emerging producers entering the film industry, and shares his opinions about the Maia Workshops and the usefulness of such an initiative.
Compromise is a key word throughout a producer’s career, and in particular when he is involved in a co-production. The production of a film in Europe – from the conception of the idea to the first screening – can last several years. Not only must the producer be passionate about his film, but he must also carefully choose the people he is going to work with, as it will be a long working relationship. As is the case with a wedding, it could be a years-long honeymoon or a complete disaster. For this reason, partners must be chosen carefully, and once again, it is important to do the homework, which means being completely informed about the chosen partner. A common vision of the film is important, as well as a certain degree of complementarity. As in all personal relationships, trust and transparency are essential ingredients.
On the second day of the workshop, Maia participants had the opportunity to meet Mike Kelly, a financial and media expert who, in 2006, established Northern Alliance Ltd, a Chartered Accountancy practice specialising in providing accounting and consulting services and business advice to public- and private-sector clients operating in the entertainment and media industries.
Kelly introduced the UK Microwave scheme and presented a successful case study: Shifty (UK, 2008), a £104,000 budget film nominated for a Bafta for Outstanding Debut for its director, writer and producer (Eran Creevy), and the winner of several prizes at international film festivals. Metrodome obtained the UK rights to the film and distributed it in 52 cinemas across the country. Shifty has been Metrodome’s bestselling DVD and VoD title to date.
In Kelly’s opinion, there is no need for a big budget in order to make a “big” movie. A high-budget film can look poor because of a lack of talent, and this is not due to the budget. On the contrary, a big idea and a talented cast and crew can make for a successful film at festivals and in theatres. What is important in low-budget filmmaking is organising the shoot carefully. Sentences such as “We’ll figure that out in post” should be avoided; unforeseen decisions can lead to a constantly increasing budget. A good story, talent, dedication and patience are essential ingredients in low-budget filmmaking.
In this interview, Kelly talks about the reasons behind the creation of Microwave in the UK, and explores the opportunities and challenges of making a micro-budget film.
On the third day, Linda Beath took the stage. Beath established Ideal Filmworks over 20 years ago to raise development and production financing for international co-productions. She is involved in five to ten productions every year, and she trains professionals in finance, business and strategic planning at various workshops.
At Maia, Beath gave participants an overview of the possible sources of funding for a film: national and regional funds, public TV, pre-sales, sponsors and advertising. Together with the participants, she drew the timeline of the production of a film – from the conception of the idea until the preview screening – and marked all the necessary and unavoidable steps required to complete the production.
The theoretical lesson was followed by practical group work. Participants were divided into five groups and had to simulate a two-country co-production and prepare the financial plan, considering all the possible funding sources in the designated countries and their rules. The last part of Beath’s talk focussed on how to run a company.
Stefan Rüll is an attorney-at-law and mediator. He founded his law firm, Rüll Law Office, in 1996, focusing on legal consultation and representation for film producers mainly involved in international co-productions. The company also provides services to authors, directors and other artists in film and television.
Rüll’s talk on the fourth day at Maia focused on co-productions. He pointed out the importance of signing a good co-production agreement before undertaking important actions and, in particular, before starting to spend money. Rüll examined budgets and funding in the context of a co-production, and introduced the European treaties, the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-Production and Eurimages.
After the theoretical lesson, participants again had the opportunity to simulate a situation that may present itself in a producer’s career. This time, participants were divided into three groups and had to simulate a co-production meeting between three production companies from three different countries, each of them determined to sign a co-production agreement according to their own needs and ambitions. Each group was given a series of indications about the company profile and its needs in the framework of the co-production. Each company had to try to defend them during the negotiation, with the aim being to end the meeting with as positive an outcome as possible. But, as already mentioned, at the base of a successful co-production there must be the art of compromise. Indeed, participants experienced a sort of “tit for tat” rule that implied that they could obtain something only in exchange for them yielding on something else. In Rüll’s opinion, the best negotiator is the one that respects the others’ needs and incorporates them in his own strategy. Apart from laws, contracts and administration, there is a great deal of psychology involved in the producer’s relationships with other partners.
In this interview, Rüll shares his thoughts about the lesson taught at Maia. He points out the importance of psychology in professional relationships and explains what, in his experience, can be the root cause of failure in these relationships.
Peter De Maegd gave the final lecture of the Maia Workshop. Because of an unforeseen difficulty, the lesson was given via Skype from his office in Brussels.
Peter De Maegd is an independent film producer who focuses on the opportunities presented by converging media. Over the last decade, he has been involved in the production and marketing of over a dozen feature films.
De Maegd’s lecture began with an analysis of the recent digital revolution, which has been the origin of fundamental changes in society. New media are challenging the old media, and this has consequences for both the individual's day-to-day life as well as for the industry.
The internet is not that new any more; however, it is developing continuously. Digitalisation has changed the media and entertainment industries: in the film industry, new media and new forms of online distribution are challenging filmmakers to find new forms of storytelling.
Peter De Maegd has been taking up the challenge and has adopted new strategies to develop his projects, connecting the potential of the internet to the more traditional narrative forms.
With his company Potemkino he focuses on innovative projects and formats like Where is Gary?, Miss Homeless and Jean wordt Vlaming. These experiences, and the partnership with Caviar Films and seven broadcasters, resulted in the participative drama series The Spiral. De Maegd is the producer and story architect of The Spiral, which was simultaneously broadcast in eight countries and invited the audience to experience the story on TV, online and in reality. De Maegd provided Maia participants with a few case studies about his recent projects.
Maia Workshops has been a truly informative training course for the 20 producers involved in the session, but also an incredible social and personal experience. There were myriad opportunities for socialising, and from the early morning to late at night, participants could share their thoughts, talk about knowledge and doubts, and last but not least, have fun. In the evenings, excerpts from the participants’ previous or current projects were screened – a great opportunity to exchange opinions and question one’s own artistic and technical choices. One evening was dedicated to an encounter with Bernd Buder from Connecting Cottbus, while on the second night, participants could attend the MDM – Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung Summer Party in Leipzig, a great opportunity to get in touch with the regional funding body and to meet many film professionals from the region.
Maia Workshops is promoted by the Genova Liguria Film Commission and the Media Programme of the European Union, and this session was co-financed by MDM – Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung in collaboration with the Macedonian Film Fund.
In this last interview, Graziella Bildesheim, the Maia programme director, shares her thoughts about this session of Maia and talks about the programme’s future developments.