Production never sleeps, Part 2
Editorial scris de James Longshore, un actor american care munceste si traieste in Romania
We now return to Production Never Sleeps! For all of you who were breathlessly waiting. Last time I told you about my future plans to make “Sapphire” here in Bucharest, and started talking about film financing. How it works, how it affects me. So, let’s pick up right where we left off. Feel free to browse over to Part 1 to refresh your memory.
The hot trend now in international filmmaking is co-productions. Canadian-French-U.S. Italian-French-Romanian like “Diaz” and so on. Anything to offset the cost of production! The production company from each respective country has a stake in its distribution and contributes funding or resources. Sometimes these resources can include tax breaks, or cheaper labor, or government financing.
To qualify into the co-production, there must be a certain minimum percentage of resources coming from each country. And all kinds of issues with the government affect the qualifications for co-productions. For example, whether or not the governments of those two countries have a treaty regarding the film industry. For example, the Canucks don’t have a treaty with Romania, ay! So it is hard to convince a Canadian production to shoot here. And the productions want to save money by using what’s known as a “local hire”, actors or crew who live where the film is shooting. But to qualify for the tax breaks, productions must reach a certain quota of personnel from each country. Bored and confused yet? God knows I’m annoyed by it all, and it’s my business.
How this affects me personally. Ok, so, I came to Romania thinking, well, all these American productions are going to want a gen-u-ine American, who they can cast as a local hire, without worrying about room and board and travel, all those little comforts producers resent providing. Turns out, I’m a source of confusion. The quotas hurt me. I don’t get cast, because with all the government requirements, I am just a hassle. Because I live here, and I have residency, but I am an American citizen.
So there are too many questions. Stressed out producers have to ask “Is he a local hire? Does he fall in the quota? Who do we pay taxes to? What kind of fee is he expecting?” This leads to the inevitable “Fuck It! Get me someone we know will be cheap and will fall in a nice little category.” And I lose the part. Suckage, man! Keep this in mind, actors, a big part of many decisions is what will cause the least headaches because producers have plenty of those.
And it affects me philosophically, as an artist. It forces directors and producers to make choices based not on what’s best for the movie, but what’s best for the budget, or what will make it more marketable. For example, to sell the movie, a director may have to cast a star instead of the talented but unknown actor who is better for the part. Any decision not based on artistic merit steals a little bit of the movies soul, until there may be nothing left but a bloated corpse.
Of course, this has haunted me in America too. In America, many states offer production incentives and tax breaks for films to shoot in their state. The best are Louisiana and New Mexico. For example, “This Is The End”, a movie set entirely in L.A., was shot almost entirely on location in Louisiana. I was once cast in the lead ensemble for a teen horror comedy that was shooting in New Mexico. Cool, free trip to New Mexico! I was cast in L.A. and after learning my part, and attending table reads of the script and meeting all the other actors and waiting for the shooting schedule, I was informed that they had cast “local hires” in New Mexico. So you can see why I don’t personally want government involved in filmmaking.
As I stated in Part 1, I recently was on a meeting with a producer of a movie. Another one of those vampires vs. monsters vs. nazi movies. A local studio is trying to convince the producer to shoot the film here. The studio called me in as an actor, to present me for potential casting. I think they called me in to impress the producer, to demonstrate the resources they have here, because I have professional head shots, and a show reel, normal things an actor should have but most actors here don’t, and I know how to present myself as a Hollywood actor does.
There is competition, and to secure a production, you have to undercut other countries proposed budgets, show that it will be most economic to shoot here. Now, in Romania, what is attractive is the low cost of labor and locations. That’s why Romania gets historical dramas like “Hatfield-McCoys” and straight to dvd quick money flicks like “Dead In Tombstone”. Romania doesn’t have a functioning union, and there is no overtime pay, very few regulations. The productions can abuse us to their hearts content. But even though they have an ace in the hole like me, there are still some obstacles to attracting international productions. I will explain.
Romania does not offer tax incentives for productions. In fact, it charges the T.V.A, or taxpayer value added, of 24%, increasing the budget by a quarter. When productions see this, they run away as quickly as they can. What is a producer to do? Why, use a no-balance ATM, of course! Here in Romania, we have the CNC. I’m sure one of those C’s stands for corrupt. This organization is where Romanian films get most of their funding. How is another, much darker story. Many international films and co-productions get part of their funding from here as well.
The Romanian producers say, “Wait! Come back! We can get some money for your budget!” To get funding from CNC, you have to be awarded a certain number of points, points based on your stature in the Romanian film community. So producers lure productions here by treating the CNC as a no repayment loan bank, because although it is technically a loan, you only have to re pay it within 7 years, and after 7 years, you dissolve or restructure the company that owes the loan, and bam, free financing. Completely abusing the system. It’s a big ol’ mess perpetuated by lack of a free market.
The point system is like the old age problem of getting a job waiting tables. They wont hire you without experience, but then where do you get that experience? So this point system is no different than the way most indie filmmakers have to package their films. It prevents new or unproven filmmakers from getting funding from CNC. So we need the concept of independent financing in Romania in order for projects with merit to get made.
For a film to be possible just based on the passion of the filmmakers to see the project get made, like it is in America. For that you need profitability. And we hope to demonstrate that this can work with “Sapphire”. And one of the key ways to make a film profitable is with profit sharing. But I went waayyy over my word count again, so I will tell you all about that next time! Until then, have fun and remember, life is your movie!