"Doing everything ourselves, taking risks and persuading"
by Anne Feuillère
- MMG Film & TV Production look back at the financing phase and launch strategy for Ben X
Journalist Nic Balthazar’s debut film Ben X [+see also:
interview: Nic Balthazar
interview: Peter Bouckaert
film profile] is also the first title produced single-handedly by Peter Bouckaert for MMG Film & TV Production, where he has been working for seven years under Erwin Provoost.
Cineuropa: How did Ben X come about?
Peter Bouckaert: After the book and theatre adaptation (see news), a production company tried to buy rights. But Nic wanted to direct the film himself. At the time, I’d read the book and Erwin had seen the play. So I got in touch with Nic and suggested he direct the film himself, if we agreed. Then we got started. Financially, within a year we had secured a €1.5m budget for the film, with backing from the Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds (VAF), Dutch outfit Bos Bros Film & TV Productions, Nederlands Fonds voor de Film, VRT - Vlaamse Radio Televisie and tax shelter funding, which we did directly ourselves and do for all our productions, like most Flemish producers. The shoot began in October 2006 and lasted 25 days. We shot five days with a small team and then we shot the video game, a new process until up to now.
The film already seems set to be a sure-fire hit…
Nic had never made a film before and autism and bullying are difficult subjects, so we needed to sell the idea. Our aim was to make the film accessible to the general public when everything was making it more of a specialised auteur film. It has emotion, poetry and suspense. We took our time in making it and setting it up. We needed time because the film is complicated. We didn’t want to release it too quickly either because we wanted to prepare the release well and create some word of mouth publicity. This film needs it. So we set up partnerships with several media. The film was locked in June but we wanted a couple of months to create a marketing campaign with Kinepolis Film Distribution. We wanted to test the film on a market where US culture meets European culture. At Montreal, over 3,000 saw the film, and at its screening the following day, both the French and English-speaking press were enthusiastic. But Ben X was an enormous risk because we could have missed out on two markets by having a film that was neither arthouse nor experimental or not Hollywood enough for mainstream audiences. Ben X is still a small film but we believe it’s a "crossover" film. And everywhere we have the same category of distributors, those who work on films that are both demanding but which have a big potential to draw the public.
You chose not to use intermediary agencies. Why is this practice more common than in Wallonia, do you think?
In Flanders we find more professional production companies who have the knowledge and capacity to deal directly with potential investors, thus making it possible to use the tax shelter to its fullest potential, for Belgian productions and international coproductions. It’s also a question of vision. Where in Wallonia intermediate companies bid (see news), we chose to do things ourselves because that the way the tax shelter system was meant to be. Another element is the fact that the Flemish film industry is very vibrant and creative in its own home market. We don’t have France on our side and we don’t have a big brother so we had to do everything ourselves. The Netherlands doesn’t have the same television or market as us at all, so we couldn’t count on them. In particular our market of 6m is very small, which forces us to be very creative and cost efficient. Little by little, by investing each euro in the film and by obliging ourselves to be more professional and trying at all costs to persuade our audience, we are making it.