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“You can make a movie well, cheaply or quickly, but not all three”

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US in Progress #2


- Cineuropa sat down with Laura Teodosio, Matthew Smaglik, David Mandel and James Morrison at US in Progress Paris to discuss their views on the process of creating low-budget films

US in Progress #2
(© Pascale Arnaud)

On day two of US in Progress Paris, Cineuropa shared a table with Laura Teodosio (producer of Awol), Matthew Smaglik (producer of Diverge), David Mandel (producer of Diverge) and James Morrison (director of Diverge), who explained their views on the process of creating low-budget films. Just before dessert, Morrison even quoted Walt Disney: “We don’t make movies to make money; we make money to make more movies” – a happy coincidence, as the director and his team won the US in Progress Award later on that day…

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Cineuropa: How long have you been working on your project?
Laura Teodosio:
Awol came to life at Sundance as a short in 2011. We started shooting the feature in the summer of 2012 and completed it in the winter of 2015, and now we’re pulling the movie together to finish it.

James Morrison: We started shooting in the autumn of 2013, and we filmed over the course of more than a year. Because of our budget, and because the way we wanted to make the film was pretty ambitious, we scheduled four to five days a month with our actors for shooting.

What’s the most difficult part of being an independent filmmaker in the US?
It is very challenging. In the US, there is no real structure for indie films; there is no government funding. With Awol, the process was that the shooting part was funded with family money and Kickstarter money. To finish it off, we decided to go for investment money, and we did this by getting small amounts from about 16 different people, with cheques from $10,000 to $150,000.

David Mandel: With Diverge, the process was pretty similar. We were raising money as we were making the movie. It was painful and complicated. But we always told ourselves: “You can make a movie well, make a movie cheaply or make a movie quickly, but you cannot do all three…” And so we went for making it well and cheaply. You have to be patient. We had three or four companies giving us large amounts of money, but those investments were really spaced out.

How do you feel about crowdfunding?
There is a big development in this area right now. Crowdfunding is almost a non-profit type of thing, where you would raise money from a lot of donors, but those donors have no expectations. Recently in the US, we passed a federal law that allows filmmakers to solicit investments from smaller groups of people, allowing an expectation of a return on it, equity funds. Now people can make a little money investing in crowdfunding. We don’t know yet if it’s positive for the industry…

Matthew Smaglik: It has only been allowed for a few weeks.

LT: There is no real infrastructure for it yet. So far in the US, you’ve had to make sure that your official investor had one million dollars in liquid assets, or for the last two years had made $250,000 in income per year. Now, you don’t necessarily have to check on it… I would be interested to see what happens. It is still as risky as ever, though.

Do you think that the circulation of your film in Europe is important?
Oh yes, big time! And US in Progress gives us an opportunity to move forward and to finally put something up on a screen. It’s encouraging to know that there are people out there who take time to look at your film.

LT: The films that we are making are very low budget, so we actually haven’t even thought about how we are going to distribute the film or how we would be able to get access to sales agents and distributors. US in Progress is an opportunity because we couldn’t afford to bring people on board to help us. It’s really exciting for such low-budget films to be able to do that.

DM: As a small-budget US film, it is frustrating trying to get interest internationally. Nobody goes out and says, “I want to make a very exclusively American movie” – I think it only happens accidentally. To get feedback at US in Progress is really helpful, and hopefully the European audience will benefit from it, too.


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