A Series Of Unfortunate Events

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Hello there. Thanks for joining me again. I need the company. For now is the winter of our discontent. Boy, let me tell you how I feel about making movies here in Bucharest right now. I’m this close (imagine gesture insulting your manhood here) to just writing books instead. Or maybe just a nice easy play. A nice little two person play. Like Oleanna, maybe. 

Because I have to be acting at least. For a true actor, everyday is a fight to act. To put food on your plate doing it. For this reason, so many aspiring actors move to L.A. There’s much more to fight for there. But I’m sure many Romanian actors can sympathize with the plight here as well. Reminds me of a joke I heard on my first Romanian movie set, Mandragora’s “Diaz: Don’t Clean Up This Blood”: What’s the difference between an actor and a pizza pie? A pizza pie can feed a family of four.

The reason I say this is because right now I am co-producing and acting in a feature film I co-wrote with Director Bianca Mina called “Say Goodbye To Hollywood”. This is introducing a new style of filmmaking to Romania. The super-independent film designed for an international audience. This isn’t really done here yet, never minding that Romanian “Couples Retreat” remake movie some of you may have seen. And it’s really hard.

We have a friend, Gentle Ben, who owns a sound studio and understands what we’re doing, always says “Don’t be the first to do anything”. And I understand what he means. Lucky for us, he also says “But if you’re gonna do it, I’ll at least help”. And he is, providing us with production sound and post facilities, because he sees the long term potential, and believes there will be profit to share.

Which is exactly what we’re doing and brings me to profit participation, the subject promised in my previous editorial. Profit Participation is when people involved in the movie, or providing services, equipment, etc. drop their fees in exchange for a share of the money when the movie is sold and distributed. It’s kind of like an investment. It’s called believing in the movie, which is a commandment when making a film. It’s a completely normal thing in Hollywood.

Directors like Steven Soderbergh do it. Actors do it all the time. Jim Carrey even did it for Yes Man. Yes Man. A hard movie to believe in, but it still made $90 million. Struggling actors do it, in order to showcase their talent. It’s the way most indie movies are made today. The other way is to sacrifice everything, like Kevin Smith did when he sold his entire comic book collection and maxed out his credit cards to get the $27,000 he needed to make the classic comedy “Clerks”. I completely understand his sacrifice.

I have a comic collection worth twice that in storage in L.A., which I almost lost last week because of the sacrifices I have made for “Say Goodbye To Hollywood.”. “Clerks” launched his career, made 3.5 million, and helped Sundance earn it’s credibility as a mecca for independent filmmaking. Or what Naomi Watts did with “Ellie Parker”, which is a movie all of you who are interested in Hollywood should see, as it depicts very honestly, realistically and humorously the life of an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

So you see there are many examples of finding ways to make their movie. Here there is none of that can-do spirit. Or reverence for the film itself. Young aspiring filmmakers think “I’m too poor to make a movie” or “I don’t have any connections.” There’s no such thing as these phrases. Because profit participation is about human capital. Team work. The idea is to see the production value, or money spent, on screen instead of in pockets. It’s an investment in talent and skill. And people here are not interested in this kind of investment. I even got people who were providing equipment or services, and who are so unable to see the potential that they turned down any profit sharing percentage, blew it off like it was nothing.

Just acting like they are doing us a favor. This ain’t favors. It’s business. I mean, we are offering them a piece of what could potentially be millions of dollars, like the cast and crew of  “The Full Monty” made when that tiny, no-star movie hit it big. Can you imagine, Romanians who don’t want money? What? But what do you expect from people who don’t understand that you need a plan for the release and distribution of the film before you even start making it.

The problem is nobody can imagine making money from a movie here because movies don’t make their budget back here or any profit. Because they are not made for the audience to enjoy, but to gently stroke the filmmakers egos with some awards and praise. You have to make movies the audience will respond to. The movies are so sad here. I mean, Mr. Lazarescu is dying, that girl is 4 months 3 weeks 2 days pregnant and can’t get an abortion, and this poor guy can’t whistle when he wants to whistle!

Of course, the thing about profit participation is you have to work for it. Have respect for the finished film, instead of just worrying about the conditions while filming. People look at the food and say “Hey, look, they got the portions wrong. Heh-heh.” We’re not here to eat lunch, people! They don’t want to work. They don’t want to even read the script. And respect for the movie starts with respect for the script. No one reads the script. Our editor, Roger I don’t know his last name because he’s not important, edits an important sequence to 30 seconds.

When we tell him we want it longer and we need to add a voice over, he gets offended at our displeasure and says “You should’ve told me.” Uh, no dude, you should have read the script, because then you would have known. Even when they have the script, they don’t pay attention. People say “Are you making call sheets? We gotta have call sheets. They’re important!” Then we attach the script for the day’s scenes to the call sheets and crew members still walk around asking “Uh, does this scene have dialogue in it?”

So far, we’ve been ripped off, by people like Iceberg Art Productions. People have broken their word, like investors who promise money, but think we’re not serious then add clauses that just don’t work for the film industry, like we will only give you the 50% we promised after you get the other 50%. Huh? How’s that work? I mean, I know it’s normal at places like CNC, where contestants say they have half the money already when they don’t, CNC gives them the other 50%, they pocket half of that 50% and make the movie for a quarter of the budget they claim to have.

But we want to make our movie without that corruption. We want our movie to look like it cost 10 times what we spent. And on this journey we have been pretty much abandoned, belittled, undermined and even attacked, like by Alex our gaffer, who threatened to go the police and have us arrested, while the director’s mother is in the hospital, because he hadn’t gotten paid because the financing broke their word. All this for a movie.  And then there’s the most important part, the creative process. Which everyone forgets about. If they even know it exists.

All this reminds me of a line I just heard in the new Hobbit movie, which I just saw. It is spoken by human/creature Beorn: “I don't like dwarves. They're greedy and blind. Blind to the lives of others they think worth less than their own.” So, obviously there is much for people here to learn. So what am I to do? Well, go back to teaching actors respect for their craft, and about the demands of production. That’s ultimately why I started producing films. Because every day is a fight to act. A cause worth fighting for! Next time I promise to cover the hard life of an actor in Romania. Stay tuned!

Ellie Parker





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