Asia Feasts On Funds
November 8, 2007
A credit crunch may be slowing private equity flowing into U.S. and European media, but in cash-rich Asia, credit is a smaller issue and film funds have not yet lost their flash.
From the $285 million plunked down for 21 pictures over six years for a new Asian film fund by the Weinstein Co. to the $7 million earmarked for making movies for the China market by Singapore director Jack Neo, film funds of all sizes are still popping up.
Billions in private money are coming into China's broader media and entertainment sector. Projects from companies whose products -- from video games to piracy-proof digital distribution solutions -- show promise are getting two to three times what they might have drawn in funding three years ago.
"Internet investment is down. Film may be the thing over the next five years," said one Beijing-based venture capitalist whose company policy keeps him from being identified. "It's too competitive, so we keep quiet."
A mix of money is out there, some fresh from the pockets of moguls whose fortunes were minted in other industries.
JA Media in Beijing announced at Cannes it would put $200 million of its founders' money (made in corn-based ethanol fuel) into a slate of movies and TV shows over the next five years, backing a roster of Hong Kong directors making movies for China.
Other money comes with more sector experience, with term sheets up front and complex bonds demanded. IDG's $200 million Asian New Media private equity fund, managed from Beijing by Hugo Shong, will no doubt go head-to-head for the hottest projects with the Weinstein's fund, managed by David Lee (Shong's former vp).
Lee commutes between Los Angeles and Beijing and already has a feather in his new VC cap. He is credited with pulling together the money (with Relativity Media and Casey Silver) behind "The Forbidden Kingdom," a modern-day fantasy based on Chinese lore that brought together Jackie Chan and Jet Li for the first time.
Another Hollywood-Beijing commuter is Peter Shiao, whose shingle, Ironpond, is circling the market in partnership with backer Endgame of Los Angeles, hitting film festivals in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Pusan this year talking about their plans for production and financing of movies in the next five years.
Major Pre-Fest Buy Blooms; Summit Makes Blind Eight-figure Deal for Rian Johnson's "Brothers"
October 28, 2007
A script and just two minutes of footage were enough to sell upstart distribution company Summit Entertainment on North American rights to the unfinished sophomore feature from filmmaker Rian Johnson ("Brick"). In one of the most aggressive acquisitions ever, Summit poached "The Brothers Bloom," a movie that many expected would go on the market at the Sundance Film Festival early next year. The unspecified eight-figure deal would have made major headlines had the sale played out in Park City early next year. In a swift move, Summit simply pulled the anticipated project from an acclaimed emerging filmmaker off the market.
"Brothers" stars Adrien Brody and Rachel Weisz, as well as Mark Ruffalo and Rinko Kikuchi, in the story of what happens when a young heiress enters the lives of two sibling con men. Describing the project during a conversation with indieWIRE on Saturday, producer Ram Bergman called it a "globe-trotting adventure" playing out in eleven countries. The film was made for $20 million after CAA, representing Bergman and Johnson, secured financing through Endgame Entertainment when the filmmakers decided to make the movie independent of the Indiewood system in order to guarantee complete creative freedom. The agency later brokered the deal with Summit. Bergman produced the film along with Endgame's James Stern and it is being executive produced by Endgame's president of production Wendy Japhet and president & COO Doug Hansen.
"Don't make any offers," Bergman says he told domestic distributors after this year's Cannes market, where buyers saw a brief sales reel with less than two minutes of footage from the project. Bergman had enlisted the support of The Weinstein Company's Glen Basner, whom he worked with on "Brick" back when the executive was at Focus International. The project was still shooting at the time, but Basner began pursuing inernational deals for the film in Cannes and Bergman hoped to shop "The Brothers Bloom" at Sundance in January.
"If you don't sell the movie at Sundance, then where do you sell the movie?," Bergman rhetorically asked indieWIRE on Saturday, emphasizing the challenges facing the increasing number of producers who are making bigger budgeted films outside the studios and their Indiewood divisions. He added that beyond Sundance, he could have taken the film to Berlin, but worries that the fest doesn't draw top company decisionmakers. And waiting for a Cannes debut is equally unreliable, he added, given the challenges of gaining a coveted fest berth.
With a potential industry strike looming on the horizon and distributors becoming increasingly competitive, some in the business have already begun to speculate about another robust market being in the cards for Sundance '08, but worries about an incredibly overcrowded theatrical marketplace have created counter speculation. So, "The Brothers Bloom" team pondered the path for their project when Summit ambitiously emerged two weeks ago. During a marathon ten-hour negotiating session at CAA's Los Angeles headquarters, the company laid out a comprehensive distribution plan for the unfinished film that quickly convinced the filmmakers that they should immediately reconsider putting the film's North American rights on the market at all.
Rinko Kikuchi in a scene from Rian Johnson's "The Brothers Bloom." Photo provided by Endgame Entertainment"Smart, sexy, and fun," Summit production president Erik Feig praised director Rian Johnson on the unseen project via an official statement. "Rian is a deeply talented director, the cast is stellar, and the producing team top-notch," he said. "Landing this film now is a perfect example of our ability and willingness to move quickly and aggressively."
One insider echoed the sentiment but detailed the acquisition only as "an aggressive eight-figure deal." The pact is understood to include a major eight-figure minimum guarantee with even more millions of dollars committed to the P & A for the film's theatrical release -- and significant financial bumps based on its performance at the box office. Its a whopping acquisition that, taken altogether, may ultimately be valued at more than $20 million. Though no one involved will give exact figures on the record, this is clearly a bigger deal than any other acquisition seen at a film festival.
Financier James Stern called the deal a "perfect storm" during a conversation with indieWIRE Saturday, but declined to specify the financials explaining that a distributor paying such a large sum for an unseen film shouldn't surprise the industry. Companies already spend millions to acquire and package scripts with talent, Stern noted, adding that the film business is simply getting more and more de-centralized and will continue to do so.
"The whole deal kind of caught us by surprise," added producer Bergman in the separate conversation with indieWIRE Saturday, also declining to discuss the contractual details. But commenting on the decision to sell the film in the post-production stage, he admitted, "It relieves the pressure of finishing it for Sundance," also adding that he and Rian Johnson can now focus on "making the best movie possible." The group is aiming to complete the movie by February, Bergman said.
After leaving the CAA offices following the long negotiating session two weeks ago, Endgame's James Stern joked to Summit COO Robert Hayward, "You stole one from us." Indeed, if Summit planned to put itself on the map with this acquisition, they have no doubt succeeded.
Unveiled back in April by Patrick Wachsberger's sales company Summit Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based production and distribution studio is a new, well-financed outlet headed by former Paramount COO and vice-chairman Rob Friedman with plans to release 10 - 12 films widely annually.
Backed by more than $100 million in operating capital, Endgame Entertainment is about to unveil Killer Films' "I'm Not There," the new film from Todd Haynes that will be released in the U.S. by The Weinstein Company next month. Since its launch four years ago, Endgame has co-financed some two dozen films, including "Hotel Rwanda," "Proof," "White Noise," and "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle."
Following a number of pre-sales from Cannes, Ram Bergman told indieWIRE that there are still deals to be done on "The Brothers Bloom" at this week's American Film Market (AFM) in California, citing available territories in Japan, Australia, Italy and the U.K. But, "the movie is already profitable," he added. "There is no need to rush, unless we get the right price or the right distributor."
"Someone can say, 'how can someone pay so much without seeing the movie'," Bergman concluded, echoing that in a time when scripts are bought and packaged for big money, such a big, blind acquisition is ultimately unsurprising. "The reality is, they did."
Summit takes North America for Rian Johnson's Brothers Bloom
October 27, 2007
Summit Entertainment has acquired North American rights to Endgame Entertainment's highly anticipated romantic adventure The Brothers Bloom.
Rian Johnson's follow-up to Brick stars Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi and is currently in post-production. Ram Bergman is the producer.
Summit plans a 2008 release. The Weinstein Company will handle international sales at AFM.
Endgame's Jim Stern, who also has a producer credit on the film, financed the story of two conmen who try to dupe an heiress and end up inviting her into their partnership in what proves to be a fateful move.
Endgame's president of production Wendy Japhet and president and chief operating officer Doug Hansen serve as executive producers.
Summit's production president Erik Feig called The Brothers Bloom "smart, sexy, and fun", adding that the acquisition illustrated the company's "ability and willingness to move quickly and aggressively."
"We look forward to a great collaboration with Summit on behalf of this film," Stern said. "Having worked with such a talented director, a stellar cast and an excellent producer we look forward to bringing the film to audiences worldwide."
Summit's vice president of acquisitions and co-productions Michael Schaefer brought in the film. CAA negotiated the deal on behalf of the film-makers.
Summit's first release, the thriller P2 starring Wes Bentley and Rachel Nichols, will open in North America in November.
Summit blossoms with 'Bloom' film
October 25, 2007
Ramping up its release schedule, Summit Entertainment has acquired North American distribution rights from Endgame Entertainment to caper-romance "The Brothers Bloom," starring Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo and Rinko Kikuchi.
Rian Johnson wrote and directed the pic.
Summit, which has been in the process of transforming itself into a full-service studio, bought the rights preemptively to preclude the filmmakers from taking the project out on the festival route.
"We took it off the market because it's a mass-appeal type of project," said production prexy Erik Feig.
Currently in post-production, "The Brothers Bloom" will be released next year. Pic's produced by Ram Bergman and financed and produced by Endgame Entertainment's James D. Stern; Endgame's Wendy Japhet and Doug Hansen exec produce.
Bergman previously teamed with Johnson on "Brick."
Film centers on two con men whose lives change upon meeting an heiress who becomes an unlikely partner in their latest scheme.
Summit's planning an annual slate of up to a dozen pics. Its first release will be horror-thriller "P2" on Nov. 9.
Summit VP of acquisitions and co-productions Michael Schaefer handled the deal; CAA negotiated on behalf of the filmmakers. The Weinstein Co. will handle foreign sales at AFM.
Chorus Line Documentary in Production
October 24, 2007
A documentary following the historical run of the iconic Broadway musical A Chorus Line is set to hit the big screen by 2008. James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo’s Every Little Step: The Journey of a Chorus Line will include interviews with the show’s late creator, Michael Bennett, composer Marvin Hamlisch, choreographer Bob Avian, and the star of the original production, Donna McKechnie.
Behind-the-scenes footage from both the 1975 run and the 2006 revival will also be included. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the $2 million documentary began shooting in 2005 and will be financed by Stern’s Endgame Entertainment.
Stern and Del Deo worked together previously to produce So Goes the Nation, a documentary about Ohio’s role in the 2004 presidential election.
Fortissimo Takes on Chorus Line doc Every Little Step
October 24, 2007
Fortissimo Films has taken worldwide sales rights (excluding North America and Japan) to Every Little Step: The Journey Of a Phenomenon from Endgame Entertainment.
The deal was negotiated between Fortissimo's co-chairman Michael J. Werner and Greg Schenz of Endgame Entertainment. Fortissimo will start pre-sales at next week's American Film Market.
The documentary follows the journey of A Chorus Line from initial idea in the 1970s to its current Broadway revival.
James D Stern and Adam Del Deo of Endgame co-direct and produce, with John Breglio serving as executive producer.
Stern and Del Deo previously worked on documentaries The Year Of The Yao and …So Goes The Nation. Stern is also a Broadway producer.
Werner said: "When Jim and Adam first described this project to us, we knew that they would be producing a film with a great story, class, charm, music, and great commercial potential -- and we had to be involved. We are thrilled to be working with Endgame on this up-close look at one of the world's most endearing musicals."
Stern added: "A Chorus Line, which has played in over 40 countries and in hundreds of languages, has resonated with audiences since its debut in 1975. We know that Fortissimo Films is the ideal partner to bring this documentary of universal struggle and triumph to audiences worldwide."
U.K.'s Next Top Production Model
October 23, 2007
Diversify or die is the message facing U.K. movie producers looking to build a career in film here and abroad.
That stark reality came through loud and clear as the inaugural Film London Production Finance Market opened Monday morning in the British capital.
A heavyweight panel of U.K. producers painted a future that employs content provision across all platforms as the way forward for industry growth.
"We need to diversify to support the folly of film production," said Robert Jones, an indie producer who runs Material Entertainment, a production label jointly owned by New Line Cinema and Entertainment Film Distributors. "We (as producers) have to look at alliances and structures for the business that can be developed to bring money in alongside the movies we make."
Paul Webster, the former FilmFour chief who now runs Kudos Film and Television and recently produced David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises," said he told his employers to expect to "break even at best for the first three years" after moving into film.
"Finding a sustainable business model for moviemaking is better than trying to find a hit," Webster said. "Our business model (at Kudos) was to make fees and make films and build on that success," he said.
New media ex-pert Marc Boothe, founder of multimedia player B3 Media, recently struck a development deal with U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 and is looking to develop a talent pool among black filmmakers.
"What is more interesting is looking at the issue of screen convergence — from the cinema screen … to the television screen, to handheld devices," Boothe said. "You simply can't ignore the numbers (of users) coming from Facebook and MySpace, and it's that bit I find interesting."
For his part, Andrew Eaton, producing partner of filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, has operated successfully by setting up projects in all sorts of ways, be it via presales and bankrolling equity himself or co-financing with a partner before selling the finished movie."Control of rights is an important element for any producer," Eaton said.
Warp X principal Mark Herbert, the only panelist from outside London, said his low-budget filmmaking unit has learned a lot from the music biz.
"Two of our founders know how to make margins on any output, no matter what the cost," Herbert said. "We made more money out of two short films … than we did from the big films such as 'This Is England.' "
The producer-led panel followed the morning's finance panel moderated by legal eagle Olswang partner Lisbeth Savill.
Savill's financing heavyweights told attendees they must adapt to a new world where financiers are more and more demanding when it comes to information required to make the grade.
New York-based fund Cedar Lane founder and managing director Sam Adams said it is always worth asking what it is financiers are seeking. "What are the risks, rewards and what is the road map to getting our money back?" Adams said most financiers will be asking.
Heather Mansfield, whose Mansfield Associates advises corporate banks on risk assessment for movie companies and producers, said too often producers simply approach an institution with nothing more than a script.
"Producers simply don't understand the sales and distribution part of the business," Mansfield said.
Endgame Entertainment president and CEO Doug Hansen said the challenge facing producers is to try and get away from just making movies for fees. "The challenge is making a film for the right amount of money and to make the movie work internationally. It's still a dollar presale business."
Other members of the panel included Salter Group principal Patrick Russo and Simon Fawcett, CEO of hedge fund Aramid.
Russo told the audience that financiers "need to know that there is an underlying plan and that the strategy is consistent with that plan."
"Indie filmmakers often get into trouble if they can't articulate a plan and a strategy," he said.
Gill laments strong pound
October 23, 2007
LONDON — The opening day of Film London’s inaugural Production Finance Market, introduced to forge closer links between producers and private financiers, proved to be one of mixed messages.
Proceedings at the event, held on the sidelines of the London Film Festival, kicked off with an entertaining keynote from Mark Gill, topper at new indie finance, production and sales company the Film Department, on raising private coin in the indie film sector.
While the freewheeling speech touched on his own experiences at Warner Independent and Miramax Films, as well as extolling the creative talent in the U.K. film industry, Gill’s underlying message was the debilitating effect that the high exchange rate of the pound and reluctance of U.K. private financiers to invest in Blighty's film biz.
The incentives offered by the U.K’s tax credits were virtually being offset, if not overwhelmed completely, by the cost for American companies to film here, according to Gill.
“The quality of the creative community is as good as it’s ever been and the quality of the financing community is as bad as it’s ever been. My experience of trying to raise money in the U.K. was abject failure,” Gill told Variety. “I did not raise one dime out of the U.K. I couldn’t figure out how to crack it. There may be people here who have different relationships but what I was told was there is much more money in the U.S. or in Asia and the Middle East that is interested in this sort of investment.”
Gill, who noted that the Film Department is looking to produce up to a half dozen features a year, would look to the U.K. for scripts and material, but hoped that the country’s talent could be lured to the U.S., where some 30 states now offer significant tax breaks and subsidies.
Elsewhere, the theme of the day lay in the need for U.K producers to think globally and seek out alternative revenue streams.
A financing panel, including Aramid Capital Partners topper Simon Fawcett, the Salter Group’s Patrick Russo and Endgame’s Doug Hansen, highlighted the challenges posed by the lack of private coin in the U.K. “It’s extremely difficult to finance a U.K. film without the support of a U.K. broadcaster,” Fawcett said. “U.K producers need to think internationally and move to where the soft money is, which right now is in the U.S.”
The need for producers to expand their horizons was a recurring motif in the final panel of the day, looking at creating a sustainable U.K. production business.
Kudos Films’ Paul Webster, Material’s Robert Jones (whose company is a joint venture between U.K. distrib Entertainment and New Line), Warp’s Mark Herbert, B3 Media’s Marc Boothe and Revolution Film’s Andrew Eaton all mused on the shifting nature of the biz and the need to diversify their activities.
“The means of taking material and product to market is changing,” said Eaton, whose partner at Revolution is Michael Winterbottom. “It would be a mistake to just call us a film company. We’ll all be content producers.”
Revolution Films has added a TV arm to their core business.
However, Herbert revealed that Warp had made more money selling two short films than they had co-producing Brit helmer Shane Meadows’ “This Is England” and “Dead Man’s Shoes.”
Boothe cited the success of break-out U.S. multi-hyphenate Tyler Perry as an example of building grassroots awareness and revenue streams. Boothe’s B3 Media, which has expanded heavily into new media and developing up and coming talent, is in talks with BET and HBO in the U.S. and has a first look deal with hybrid U.K. pubcaster Channel 4.
Organizers at the Production Finance Market, which has attracted execs from Focus Features, the Weinstein Co., Working Title, Paramount, Pathe and StudioCanal, as well as financiers from hedge funds, private equity groups, tax funds and banks, expect some 250 attendees and more than 400 hours of meetings during the two-day event.
Individual projects being pitched during the mart include Dominic Savage’s $13 million “Mood Indigo,” Ed Blum’s $10 million “The Laughter Clinic” and Nigel Cole’s $6 million “Oxbam Social Club Outing.”
Fortissimo takes 'Step'
October 23, 2007
HONG KONG – Int'l sales agent Fortissimo Films has picked up rights to "Every Little Step: The Journey of a Phenomenon," docu about hit stage musical, "A Chorus Line."
It charts history of the original 1975 production and behind-the-scenes footage of the auditions and performances of the 2006 Broadway revival.
Pic is co-directed and produced by James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo of U.S. funding cum production shingle Endgame Entertainment. It is exec produced by John Breglio.
Fortissimo, which has rights outside North America and Japan, will begin sales at next week's American Film Market in Santa Monica. Hong Kong- and Amsterdam-based company has regularly handled North American docus including "The Bridge" and "Capturing The Friedmans."
Asian Co-Prod'ns Reach Out For Teamwork
October 10, 2007
BUSAN, South Korea -- Korean, Chinese and Hong Kong film companies are increasingly forming co-productions, but they will need to integrate further if these projects are to run smoothly in the future.
"I don't like it when we talk about the 'Hong Kong team' and the 'Korea team' and so forth," said Daniel Yu, who produced the Chinese hit "Crazy Stone." "We are one team. We need to work together."
Korean director Kim Sung-su ("Musa") led a discussion late Monday with Terence Chang, Yi Chi-yun and Daniel Yu titled Multiple Collaborations and Efficient Coproduction System in China, held at the Asian Film Market.
Chang echoed Yu's sentiments. "One thing that really bothers me is boundaries," he said. " 'We're Chinese, and you're from Hong Kong.' It is hard to get crews together as a team."
Said Yi Chi-yun, a special effects producer: "Between Korea and China, we have different definitions of job roles. For 'Red Cliff,' because it was so large, assertive communications was critical. But you can have different collaborative models on each movie."
Kim pointed out that while on smaller films the crew tends to bond naturally, larger films need a more systematic approach. "Communicating is not a matter of interpreters," he said. "We need to know how the others work, you need to compromise and understand and listen."
Yu also noted that while co-productions are attractive to many filmmakers who hunger for access to China, it takes more than working together to succeed in the China market. "Many want co-productions for access to the China market, but they forget about making those films for the China market," he said. "You need to remember the China market, and people's interests there."
"I always wanted to make a comedy in China and approached many Hong Kong directors, but I found that, although we all are Chinese, Hong Kong is not China," Yu said.
At another market event earlier in the day, Endgame Entertainment talked about their expansion into the Asian market. "Asia is driving global box office and we think there is tremendous opportunity for co-productions," vp business development Christopher Chen said. "China is the big carrot, of course, because it is expanding so much, whereas Korea and Japan are more mature markets. But we would not limit ourselves from any project that was right for us."
Endgame seeks bigger role in Asia
October 10, 2007
U.S. movie investor Endgame Entertainment Tuesday made a pitch to woo Asian producers and distributors, and said that it has made a "financial commitment" to Ironpond, the Asian-focused production and finance shingle headed by Peter Shiao and Teddy Zee.
Commitment by Endgame to Ironpond is understood to be some $65 million and is a step up from the looser alliance that has previously existed between the two firms. Hansen also said that in addition to Endgame's own commitment to Ironpond, the pair has "now started to raise money together" for investment in Asian movie biz.
Hansen admitted that the recent credit market crash had made it harder to raise coin for movie investment from private equity sources. " 'Slate funding' is a term that won't get you through the door in many places. That's a shame because portfolio theory works. You need to call it 'portfolio funding.' "
Asian producers can approach either Ironpond or Endgame, Hansen said.
Financial discipline could include use of completion bonds, gap and super-gap finance.
"Asia is a great growth story. The build out of theaters is changing the market," Hansen said. "Never mind figures of 1.3 billion people in China. The 250 million people in China's middle class are underserved by the exhibition sector."
Pitch was made as part of the new Co-Production PRO section of the Pusan Intl. Film Festival. In attendance were execs from companies including Hong Kong's Fortissimo Films, China's Infotainment China Media and Turquoise Pictures, Korea's 24-7 Pictures and Cineclick Asia, as well as execs from France's Metropolitan and U.S.'s Greenskyfilms.
Asian Film Market has Quiet but Steady Opening
October 8, 2007
The second edition of the Asian Film Market kicked off in Pusan on Monday (Oct 8) with quiet corridors on the sales office floors, but a strong turn-out at concurrent seminars and projects markets.
Around 1,100 participants had registered by the end of Monday, in addition to 400 guests at the BIFCOM locations market, which is roughly the same as the inaugural edition of the market last year.
The number of sales companies and talent agencies taking part in the market was also about the same, although the number of sales offices had decreased as many had opted to sell via umbrella organisations. More than 20 companies were selling product through the offices booked by European Film Promotion (EFP).
But while the sales offices were only moderately busy, the crush at the opening party on Monday night suggests that the package of events initiated by the Pusan team continues to have pulling power.
The highly-regarded Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP), newer events such as Co-Production PRO and talent showcase Star Summit Asia – along with the festival itself – combine to keep appointment schedules full and to justify the trip at a busy time of year.
The different events are also well integrated and, in keeping with the original spirit of Pusan, the evenings are packed with parties and networking opportunities.
However, with MIPCOM taking place at the same time – and Rome, TIFFCOM and the AFM just around the corner – the spread of international buyers at this year's market is not that diverse.
This works just fine for the European companies that want to sell to Korea and Japan. But Korean sellers, who have recently experienced a downturn in exports, said they were disappointed at the small number of European buyers.
CO-production PRO, the most recent Pusan initiative, was well attended on the first day of the market. A more mainstream version of PPP, the event features 52 projects, a range of seminars and presentations by film investors such as Korea's CJ Entertainment, China's JA Media and Endgame Entertainment from the US.
There are also special presentations of projects from Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien and China's Zhang Yuan.
Hou pitched $10m period martial arts drama The Assassin, set to star Shu Qi as a trained killer and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Chang Chen. Taiwan's CMC has already committed some funds to the project. Zhang is set to present documentary series Kim Koo In Exile on October 10.
Hello to good buys
October 7, 2007
The Asian Film Market, which kicks off today, isn't boasting headline-grabbing increases in participants or movies for sale.
Instead, specialist movie buyers and sellers arriving Sunday in Pusan have been greeted with calls for a long-term approach to building a regional movie marketplace.
The shrinking Pusan market is clear evidence of the difficulties that local sales companies have endured over the last year as the "Korean Wave" has slowed, production has dipped and straightforward exports have crashed by more than 50%.
But organizers say that the market is an integral part of the festival activities and is not going away any time soon.
"The Pusan festival needs its market," said market spokesperson Janice Chung. "The festival would not be fulfilling its role properly if it limited its activities to just being a window on Asian cinema. It needs to participate in promoting new talent, helping it finance and sell its movies."
The market, which occupies the top five floors of Busan's Grand Hotel, counts an almost exactly identical number of participants as last year, some 1,100 excluding those registered through its accompanying Bifcom locations promo event.
The number of hotel rooms hired by sales companies has shaded lower at 58, though the total number of companies registered as sellers is little changed (160) when those sharing booths and using umbrella stands are factored in. Umbrella operations include those operated by the Indonesian Film and TV Producers' org, the Vietnam Media Corp., Taiwan's Government Info Office, Singapore's Media Development Authority, the U.K. Film Council and European Film Promotion.
Market screenings have tumbled to 68 -- each movie screening just once -- for the 350 execs registered as buyers. There are a further 50 press screenings that buyers can also access.
While the organized sales market is struggling to catch fire -- it faces competition from Tokyo's reviving Tiffcom, Toronto, this week's Mipcom and next month's American Film Market -- parts of the Asian industry are becoming more collaborative, even in cases where movies do not access formal co-production treaties. Feng Xiaogang's fest opener "Assembly" was made in China, boasted Japanese coin and Korean tech expertise.
Korean onscreen talent now regularly features in film and TV in China, Hong Kong and Japan, while Japanese stars especially are increasingly cast in Korean TV dramas.
"(Pusan) spent a lot of time researching the trends in the Asian industry and decided to expand the scope of its activities," Chung said. "The first steps were the launch of the market and Star Summit Asia last year. This year it is the debut of Co-ProductionPRO."
Running for three days in the Grand's Emerald Hall, CPP is the grown-up equivalent of the festival's successful PPP project market, which this year celebrates its 10th frame.
Asia's top filmmakers including Hou Hsiao Hsien and Zhang Yuan, will publicly pitch their big-budget movie projects to financiers, distribbers and sales agents. Coming from the funding side, investment companies including Japanese giant Avex, the U.S.'s Endgame Entertainment, Korea's CJ Entertainment and Hong Kong-Chinese newcomer JA Media will all make investor presentations.
I'm Not There
September 5, 2007
Baffling and intriguing in equal measure, Todd Haynes' conceptual Dylan biopic must be one of the most star-studded experimental movies ever made. Haynes' sense that the elusive musical icon can never be pinned down in conventional biographical terms has led him and co-writer Oren Moverman to split Dylan into seven characters, played by six different actors, which represent some of the personas that, in Haynes' view, Dylan has adopted through his long career. The result is a challenging, fragmented film of superimposed and overlapping narrative layers that, rather like its subject, refuses to give easy answers.
Eschewing the dramatic arc and easy resolutions of the three-act feature, I'm Not There feels more like a thoughtful, probing, documentary told in fictional format. But this is also the film's major drawback: it keeps teasing us with what Dylan actually did, or said, or sang, and then retreating back into its fictional shell.
However fascinating it is to see Cate Blanchett, or Heath Ledger, or Christian Bale do their takes on Dylan (and in the case of Blanchett, who plays the singer in his androgynous, electrified phase, around the time of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, the transformation really is mesmeric), there are times when we yearn for the real thing, or at least the audiovisual illusion of the real thing – as provided in Martin's Scorsese's recent Dylan-doc No Direction Home.
The gulf between cast weight and commercial prospects explains Miramax's decision to open in the US with an extremely limited three-screen release and then let out the box-office slack gradually. Though other territories are unlikely to adopt quite such a radical squeeze at roll-out, caution looks to be the operative word, with the arthouse crowd – especially the large segment that grew up with Dylan's music – being the obvious target. With its frequent overlayering of music, dialogue and voice-over, the film will be a test for dubbers, and distributors in the dubbing-bloc may well decide to opt for subtitles.
The seven different incarnations of the Dylan godhead are presented in stories which run in only approximately chronological order, with plenty of overlapping and inter-cutting. We first meet Dylan in the guise of Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin), an eleven-year-old black kid who jive-talks beyond his years and hops boxcars, guitar in hand, in imitation of his hero, Woody Guthrie.
Next up is Arthur – as in Rimbaud – a poet (played by Ben Whishaw – perhaps the closest of all to Dylan himself in manner, if not in appearance) who gives elliptical, playful answers to blunt questions from a McCarthy-like commission about his supposedly subversive works. The Dylan with most screen time, by a short whisker, is Robbie (Heath Ledger), an actor who seems like a meld of Dylan and a young Marlon Brando, and whose passage from youthful idealism to embitterment is traced through his relationship with Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a Frenchwoman in New York, who Robbie woos, marries, has two kids with, and finally divorces.
Most compelling of all Haynes' Dylans, Cate Blanchett plays Jude, a mid-1960s former folk singer who is being pilloried by media and fans for going amplified and abandoning the protest songs of his recent past. Christian Bale takes on not one but two facets of Dylan: the first, glimpsed only briefly (mostly through interviews with his lover and singing partner Alice (Julianne Moore)) is Jack, a protest music singer enmeshed in the folk scene of Greenwich Village in the early 1960s; the other is Pastor John, who represents the musician's 'born again' Christian phase of the late seventies and early eighties.
Finally, the most symbolic Bob of all is Billy (Richard Gere) – an older Billy the Kid, who has survived his shoot-out with Pat Garrett and gone to live in the sleepy rural town of Riddle in Shadow Valley – a retro late-nineteenth-century Western location threatened anachronistically by late-twentieth-century life (there are plans to put a six-lane highway through it).
Sounds confusing? It is, much of the time. Haynes' own advice at the Venice film festival press conference is that you should "let the film wash over you like a dream". That's disingenuous though: few viewers will come to I'm Not There (the title of a little-known Dylan song) with no knowledge of the subject, and the film is at its most illuminating, paradoxically, when it's at its least dreamlike – for example in the scenes relating to the traumatic British tour of 1966, where Blanchett speaks lines from actual interviews given at the time, and with her startling performance pinpoints the wounded pride, the rejection of media pigeon-holes, the fragility of Dylan at one of the most productive and inspired moments of his career.
Ed Lachman's photography is as protean as his subject, mixing distressed film stock, high-contrast black and white (in the Arthur scenes), lush, autumnal widescreen landscapes (in the Billy scenes) and the occasional homage to Beat-style directors of then sixties like Richard Lester or D. A. Pennebaker. Other parodic moments involve mock-up album covers and TV-style interviews with associates of one or more of Bob's avatars.
But in the end, two things almost justify I'm Not There's overlong running time, at least for cinema and music buffs. The first is the fascination that lies in comparing and contrasting six fine actors' takes on Dylan. The second is the music. The selection of songs used here – some of them in new versions by contemporary artists – is by no means a Greatest Hits selection (there's no Blowing in the Wind, no Like a Rolling Stone). But this seems a good choice, as 'minor' classics – like the poignant Bootleg Series version of Moonshiner -– distract less than the iconic tracks from their function, which is to illuminate, or occasionally comment ironically on, the words and poses that fill Haynes' ambitious, unresolved search for Dylan.
Norton Starts at Endgame as New CFO
July 19, 2007
NEW YORK -- Production-financing outfit Endgame Entertainment is upping its game, hiring Robert Norton as CFO, Greg Schenz as head of business and legal affairs and Matt Birch as senior vp physical production.
Norton recently was a film-financing adviser to such production companies as Radar Pictures and Jersey Films. Before that, he was CFO at 3-D digital theater giant Real D, CFO of Landscape Entertainment and COO and CFO of Scott Free Prods. He began his career at Lucasfilm Ltd.
Schenz was head of business and legal affairs at Beacon Pictures, where he oversaw a first-look deal with Walt Disney Pictures. He also was a senior vp business and legal affairs at production outfit Intermedia Films and an associate at Loeb & Loeb Llp. He began his entertainment career at International Film Guarantors.
Birch recently was a production supervisor on such films as "Transformers," "Mission: Impossible III and "The Italian Job" as well as a production coordinator on such films as "What Lies Beneath," "Vanilla Sky" and "Along Came a Spider." He also was a Paramount Pictures staff production coordinator and a development executive at Tribeca Prods.
Endgame, run by CEO James D. Stern and president and COO Douglas E. Hansen, has produced such films as Lionsgate's "Hotel Rwanda," New Line Cinema's "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" and the Weinstein Co.'s upcoming Bob Dylan pseudo-biopic "I'm Not There."
Shanghai Market Called Work-In-Progress
July 19, 2007
SHANGHAI -- Mainland China's first film market got off to a slow start Monday with only one potential sale, but guests who turned out en masse for the event held in conjunction with the Shanghai International Film Festival said they viewed it as a work-in-progress.
Planned for a year by state-run China Film Group Corp., the film market was designed to showcase Chinese films to the world -- but few buyers were among those present.
"We're busy, but there's no business. Not yet," said Zhou Tiedong, president of CFGC's China Film Promotion International. The market is set to close Wednesday.
More Shanghai Film Festival coverage
The one would-be sale, by CFGC, was of "Son of Tibet," the debut feature by Chinese music-video director Dai Wei. The story of an ethnic Han Chinese singer who travels to Tibet to seek her lost voice, drew an offer of about $25,000, pending approval from executives at fledgling Los Angeles-based independent distributor 24 Frames, Inc.
"This is a new kind of film for China with a natural audience in home video in America," said C.K. Tsang, 24 Frames' director of operations and Asia acquisitions, who previously worked for Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Other feature films at the festival, now in its 10th year, were roundly criticized as old. There are few premieres here, but guests allowed that forums exploring China's evolving market made the trip to the commercial capital worthwhile.
"Our China focus began four years ago, and it's paid off," said Alfred Hurmer, a member of the German delegation presenting the competition films "According to the Plan" and "The Gamblers."
At last year's SIFF, the German film "Four Minutes" won Shanghai's Golden Chalice prize before it had a distributor at home. It was subsequently picked up by director Luc Besson for distribution in France and went on to win the German Film Award in May.
Although no big Hollywood films were competing, or at the market, a few recent studio pictures enjoyed the chance to reach the Chinese audience via festival screenings. Strict rules limit regular big-screen imports to 20 each year and drive most moviegoers here to pirated DVDs.
20th Century Fox brought prints of five films it does not plan to submit for censors' approval, including Oscar winners "The Last King of Scotland" and "Little Miss Sunshine."
"I really want to see the audience reaction," said Luke Xiang, chief China representative for Fox, adding that he hoped festival organizers will devise an impromptu ratings system, the lack of which has made it easy for censors to bar all but middle-of-the-road films. "This would be progress toward an open market," Xiang said.
Chinese producers seeking money far outnumbered buyers at the market. Many listened intently to a standing-room-only panel on marketing and distribution, featuring, among others, producer Michael Shane ("I, Robot") of Los Angeles-based HandPicked Films.
Shane said the Hollywood trend of private equity financing films would, in his view, last another 18-24 months and questioned if it would spread in China in time.
"Investing in the Chinese marketplace is risky," Shane said. "It's two to five years out before that's likely to happen here."
Others on the panel said they were ready to dive in, looking for Chinese films to be remade in English, for Chinese films with an international cast, or for genre films that worked in China.
"We're putting a fairly significant amount of money into China," said Douglas Hansen, CEO of Endgame Entertainment of Los Angeles.
Endgame is partnered in China with Los Angeles-based Iron Pond, whose CEO, Peter Shiao, said that SIFF "shows a lot of promise, but the practicalities are still murky."
One man with paramount confidence in the market is Yu Dong, CEO of Beijing Poly Bona Film Distribution Co., the leader in Hong Kong films distribution on the mainland and the cultural arm of the People's Liberation Army.
Yu said he sees China's film market at 20 billion yuan as it grows to serve the rapidly growing pool of those who can afford movie tickets.
China's boxoffice was 262 million yuan ($335 million) in 2006, and a recent study showed that only about 19% of the population, or roughly 247 million people, can afford the $6.50 price of admission.
Endgame Bolsters Ranks with Norton, Schenz, Birch
July 19, 2007
Jim Stern's Endgame Entertainment has bolstered the ranks with three hires, naming Robert Norton as chief financial officer, Greg Schenz as head of business and legal affairs, and Matt Birch as senior vice president of physical production.
The company has moved to new offices in Beverly Hills as post-production continues on Rian Johnson's adventure The Brothers Bloom starring Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rinko Kikuchi.
"We are very excited about the arrival of Matt, Robert and Greg to the team," Stern said. "They are all remarkable professionals with invaluable experience essential to our company. In this time of growth for us, I am thrilled to see that our efforts to build a solid team are paying off."
Until recently Norton was a financial advisor to such film companies as Ascendant Pictures, Radar Pictures and Jersey Films. He served as chief financial officer at 3-D digital theatre system pioneers REAL D, and before that was chief operating and financial officer at Scott Free Productions.
Schenz arrives from Beacon Pictures, where he served as head of business and legal affairs and worked on such films as The Guardian and Ladder 49. Prior to that he was a senior vice president in business and legal affairs at Intermedia.
Birch previously served as production supervisor on such films as Transformers, Mission Impossible III, The Italian Job and Constantine.
Endgame was one of the producers on Todd Haynes' upcoming Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There, which will be distributed by The Weinstein Company and stars Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Richard Gere, all of whom play Dylan at various stages in his life.
Exec trio called to Endgame
July 19, 2007
Endgame Entertainment has expanded its exec team by hiring Robert Norton as chief financial officer, Greg Schenz as head of business and legal affairs and Matt Birch as senior VP of physical production.
Until recently, Norton was a film-financing adviser to production companies including Ascendant Pictures, Radar Pictures and Jersey Films. He was previously CFO at Real D and at Bob Cooper's Landscape Entertainment; before that, he was chief operating officer-CFO at Scott Free Prods.
Schenz was previously at Beacon Pictures as head of business and legal affairs and worked on "The Guardian" and "Ladder 49." Before that he was a senior VP at Intermedia, an associate at Loeb & Loeb and legal counsel for Intl. Film Guarantors.
Birch has worked on production and financial management on "Mission Impossible III," "The Italian Job," "Constantine," "Transformers," "What Lies Beneath," "Vanilla Sky" and "Along Came a Spider."
Endgame is in post-production on "The Brothers Bloom" and recently produced Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There
Prague fights for slice of big films
June 22, 2007
As Eastern Europe rapidly plays catch-up to Western Europe, attracting more low-budget and midrange foreign productions, the more mature Czech market finds itself focused increasingly on the big scores these days.
Having broken into the big leagues in 2006 with Bond pic "Casino Royale," followed by "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," both of which took over Barrandov Studios for a season, Prague is not looking back, local industry insiders say.
"Prague continues to lead the regional pack with its developed infrastructure, experienced crew and still-untapped locations," says David Minkowski, topper at Stillking, which co-produced the Bond pic.
But the only way to stay out front in the face of the growing number of new studios and soundstages, regional bargains and growing pools of skilled workers in other former East bloc markets, he says, "is if we enact a tax break similar to Germany or Hungary. The writing is on the wall, and we can't wait for the market to die before doing anything about it."
The local industry has made similar urgent appeals for years to the Czech state, of course, but the current coalition, a weak conglomeration of four parties led by the conservative Civic Democrats, is not likely to get any major new reforms through Parliament. What's worse, it finds itself already facing sanctions for big spending and is scrambling to cut programs, not create them.
Meanwhile, with Hungary's massive Korda Studios open for business and already booked with "Hellboy 2," the previous edition of which shot in Prague, the warnings are proving well founded. Although Hungary's nabbing that particular shoot was more down to insufficient Czech studio space being available, Minkowski says it's time to act or lose out.
"The reason Prague has not had more competition to date is that new studios in Hungary just opened, so now they have tax breaks and studios. In Germany, they had studios but no tax breaks. Now they also have both. The Czech Republic is boxed in and not in a very good position," he asserts.
Thus, many in the industry argue that, with such middle- to high-range productions still on tap, Czechs should not worry about losing out on the small stuff.
Producer Ram Bergman, however, counters his $20 million-plus caper pic, Endgame Entertainment's "The Brothers Bloom," with Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, Rinko Kikuchi and Rachel Weisz, was shot exclusively on nonstudio locations and found the East accommodating.
"We scouted a lot in Prague, Spain, Malta, Majorca and Italy and ended up shooting the core of the movie in Belgrade, Serbia, Montenegro, Prague and Romania."
While he confesses that morale is easier to keep up in Prague and counsels that to shoot in Belgrade or Transylvania "you need patience," Bergman also says that construction, always a primary budget item, is far cheaper in Serbia.
What's more, he points out, although the dollar is weaker than it's ever been against the euro, American companies that pay crew members in dollars while in Europe will not find costs as tough to manage.
Poland, meanwhile, has joined the fray, with its newly minted Polish Film Institute offering support and connections. David Lynch's "Inland Empire" and Peter Greenaway's "Nightwatching" both gave the country the nod last year.
Says the institute's Agnieszka Odorowicz, the agency in 2006 supported 35 international co-productions. That activity "signifies that foreign producers acknowledge changes induced by the new film law," which allows subsidies to be issued for services to foreigners.
Polish producers and crews have joined with helmers such as Volker Schlondorff ("Strike") and Ken Loach ("It's a Free World") plus the Czech Republic's Petr Zelenka, slated to begin shooting the Czech-Polish co-production "The Karamazov Brothers."
Shanghai Film Forum Delegates Talk Finance, Festivals
June 18, 2007
Marketing is no longer a dirty word in the new China and indeed a whole day was devoted to the topic on the second day of the Jin Jue International Film Forum at this year's Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF).
In a session entitled "Increasing Film Market Value – Revolution of Marketing and Distribution", speakers discussed movie marketing in North America, where TV advertising still dominates, and China, where film marketers have whole-heartedly embraced the internet.
And this being the new China, where nobody misses a marketing opportunity, the session kicked off with presentations by Shanghai film festival sponsors L'Oreal and film promoter Filmore Media.
Filmore founder and CEO Zhang Qingyong outlined the major platforms for film marketing in China as "focus media" (flat-screen TVs and posters in lobbies and elevators), mass transit media (buses and taxis), the internet, mobile phones and SMS – with expensive traditional media such as print and television coming in last.
This is in sharp contrast to the US where, as American Film Institute CEO James Hindman explained, television still accounts for 75% of film marketing spend. "New markets like mobile phones and the internet are growing very slowly," Hindman said. "You get fads like when The Devil Wears Prada went on YouTube, then everybody went on YouTube, and then nobody did….the internet is not even 3% of the pie."
In another sign of how the Chinese film market is evolving, the afternoon session quickly moved onto the subject that really interested everyone in the room – how to raise finance for new film projects.
Delegates quizzed speakers including IM Global's Stuart Ford, Endgame Entertainment president Douglas Hansen and producer Michel Shane about how to access the current buzz financing mechanisms – including private equity, hedge funds and super gap.
US-based film financier Endgame in investing in Los Angeles and Beijing-based producer Ironpond Inc. But Endgame's Hansen already had a working relationship with Ironpond principals Peter Shiao and Teddy Zee. Delegates observed that this emerging market is still some way off the private equity boom.
" China is still two to five years away from a situation where private equity will come in and feel comfortable," said Shane.
That day can't come soon enough for China 's growing ranks of private film companies such as Yu Dong's distribution and financing entity Polybona. "Private companies can't grow without external finance," Yu said. "From their inception in the China market, private companies have been fighting alone. If they can't hook up with capital they won't succeed."
The previous day (Sunday, June 17), the Film Forum – which has become the main attraction for visitors to SIFF – featured a summit of film festival chiefs including Venice director Marco Mueller, Sundance's Geoffrey Gilmore, Dubai film festival chairman Abdul Hamid Juma and Pusan topper Kim Dong-ho.
The film festival rating system devised by European producers' association FIAPF was criticised by Gilmore who stated that" "the mediocrity that organisation has perpetuated is one of the biggest failings of the international industry."
The Shanghai festival has been granted "A-list" status from FIAPF although its film programming is not considered world class and it rarely features world or international premieres. The "A-list" rating is only granted to competitive film festivals, which means that it can't be bestowed on Pusan which is arguably Asia 's most influential film festival.
Shanghai fest fields U.S. pitches
June 18, 2007
Chinese bizzers at the Shanghai Film Festival were Monday treated to an array of industry execs who predicted how the Chinese movie industry would grow and gave them free introductions into the international movie biz.
"Demand for all things Chinese is growing," Endgame Entertainment prexy, Douglas E. Hansen, told the fest's conference series. "We can bring some structured finance into the Chinese market, we can bring stories and we can package."
Endgame, which three years ago morphed from a financier into a producer-fund manager, already has a stake in China through an alliance with Teddy Zee's Ironpond shingle.
Hansen said Chinese movies most likely to attract overseas coin were big-budget spectaculars, genre titles and those that have already worked in other media.
Significantly, he said, "We can finance fully Chinese movies," without requiring them to break out into global markets.
Yu Dong, CEO of Beijing Poly Bona, China's leading privately owned distributor, forecast that the country's B.O. would grow from 2.6 billion yuan ($341 million) last year to $460 million this year and said $2.6 billion is possible in 10 years.
Yu said Chinese companies needed to concentrate on building the local market and not expect too much from the export sector, as Chinese films would face rising competition from local movies. He told them to get ready for mergers and acquisitions that could make the private sector players bigger and stronger.
He also added that market restrictions made it a "golden time" for Chinese firms to invest in their own movies.
"Quotas and censorship affect imported movies, therefore we are choosing to develop local movies and the local market," he said and reminded the eager foreigners they couldn't invest directly in Chinese movie companies.
IM Global's Managing Director Stuart Ford delivered a carefully crafted overview of how the international sales business was evolving and suggested that Chinese companies needed to learn how to use sales agents to raise coin, establish marketing credentials and deliver movies to the world market.
Demographics were a recurring theme in the discussions. "I, Robot" and "Catch Me if You Can" producer Michel Shane said Chinese producers could tap new forms of finance if a film had its demos right.
He said half of the $10 million budget for his upcoming snowboarding heist movie "Band on the Run" had come from advertising agencies eager to tap into a youth market.
Zhang Qingyong, CEO of specialist ad agency Filmore Media, said movies were increasingly attractive as vehicles for consumer goods companies.
He cited examples of tie-ups between "Hero" and handset manufacturer Dopod, "Stuart Little" and Coca-Cola and "Lord of the Rings" and China Mobile's M-Zone subsid, as particularly effective campaigns.
CTB Market research deputy general manager Tian Tao said films scored very highly with youth market -- some 82% of cinema auds come from 15-34 age group.
L'Oreal China deputy prexy Lan Zhengzhen said film was increasingly important to advertisers as it provided aspirational and "emotional responses" that TV and print media could not provide.
Documentary goes behind 'Line'
May 25, 2007
If you happened to pass by the William Morris international sales office in Cannes last week, you might have caught sight of a few Broadway hoofers.
The office was running a four-minute trailer for "Every Little Step," the upcoming docu-chronicle of auditions for the current Rialto revival of "A Chorus Line." Producers of the $2 million pic -- including exec producer John Breglio, the man behind the revival -- hope to have the final cut ready for the early 2008 film fests, ahead of a national release.
Like the musical itself, the film will focus mainly on the audition period. Cameras filmed more than 1,700 performers trying out for the show -- a public glimpse behind the scenes never before allowed by Actors' Equity.
To secure permission from the thesp union, Breglio met with Equity committees before auditions even began.
"If we ever are going to do something like this, 'A Chorus Line' is the show to do it with," Breglio remembers saying to them. "My intent is not to demean or ridicule people. It's not 'Chorus Line' gone reality TV. It's just the opposite -- celebrating what it is to be a professional dancer and showing the journey and drama that goes into it."
His pitch won over Equity. Nonetheless, he waited until he had all the footage to decide whether he'd gotten enough material to go ahead with the pic.
"We now know that we have some amazing stuff," he says. "It has a story to it."
The doc's planned release date will coincide with the kickoff of the national tour, set for May 2008.
More than a few legiters have been whispering lately about the bad buzz surrounding "Xanadu," the Broadway tuner adaptation of the notoriously lousy 1980 movie-musical, which opens at the Helen Hayes Theater June 26.
Turns out you don't have to whisper. Book writer Douglas Carter Beane knows what he's up against.
"There's a group of people who look at me like I'm battling cancer," the playwright, up for a Tony for "The Little Dog Laughed," says good-naturedly.
"They're thinking, 'How can you do this? In the Helen Hayes?" he adds, affecting a scandalized tone. "And I'm sure the star of 'Herbie Rides Again' would be horrified."
(The 1974 "Herbie" sequel was a little-known screen credit for venerable stage star Hayes. Although most of us remember her on "The Love Boat.")
The original "Xanadu," which starred Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck and Gene Kelly in a tale of a modern-day Greek muse and a roller disco, flopped at the box office. Beane credits it with killing off the movie-musical for two decades.
The lead producer of the legit version, Rob Ahrens, brought the property to Beane and said the scribe could do whatever he wanted with the story. In Beane's version -- which started out with strong political overtones and then evolved into what he describes as "a joke about the creative process" -- the Greek mythology angle is far more prevalent than it is in the movie.
The playwright imagined the legit community would instantly see the nose-thumbing comic potential of the project. Not so much.
"I think it flies into everybody's insecurities," he says.
In an unusual move, the production skipped an out-of-town tryout to open cold on the Rialto. The tuner, with Christopher Ashley directing a roller-skating Kerry Butler in the Newton-John role, began previews last week.
The show's first perf was sold out.
"Of course it was!" Beane laughs. "With vicious horrible human beings who want to post on their blogs about the problems we have!"
'Chorus Line' Gets Docu Gig
May 22, 2007
James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo are bringing a documentary about the iconic Broadway musical "A Chorus Line" to the big screen.
The pair, whose previous documentaries include "The Year of the Yao" and "So Goes the Nation," will direct and produce "Every Little Step: The Journey of a Chorus Line." Stern's Endgame Entertainment will produce and finance the film, which chronicles the making of the current Broadway revival of the megahit musical.
The $2 million-range documentary will include footage of the show's late creator, Michael Bennett, along with new interviews with its composer, Marvin Hamlisch; co-choreographer Bob Avian; former New York Times theater critic Frank Rich; and the original 1975 production's breakout star, Donna McKechnie.
William Morris Independent is handling worldwide rights at the Festival de Cannes.
Production of "Every Little Step" began in summer 2005 and captured the auditions of 1,700 actors-singers-dancers. The film is now in postproduction.
Del Deo, who said the film will be cut down from more than 400 hours of footage, expects it to be completed in time for the Toronto International Film Festival — where his two earlier docus debuted — or the Sundance Film Festival.
Footage continued through the play's Broadway premiere and into its current Tony-nominated run. "Every Little Step" will cull behind-the-scenes footage of the audition, rehearsals and performances of the 1975 original and the 2006 revival, highlighting the similarities and differences between the two shows separated by a generation and revealing how life imitates art as performers from both productions undergo intense experiences similar to the roles in the play itself.
" 'A Chorus Line' was built in an organic way in the early '70s, where artists would sit around in a semicircle at midnight," Stern said. "There's now a whole new way of doing business on Broadway. Our film is also about the way entrepreneurs have been replaced by corporations in America."
Endgame's upcoming credits include "The Brothers Bloom" and the Todd Haynes-helmed Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There." The company has co-financed more than 25 films, including "Hotel Rwanda," "White Noise" and "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle."
Endgame to Produce A Chorus Line documentary
May 21, 2007
Jim Stern's Endgame Entertainment will produce and finance the documentary Every Little Step: The Journey Of A Chorus Line about the making and revival of the Broadway hit.
Stern and Adam Del Deo will co-direct and produce and WMi is handling worldwide rights here on A Chorus Line's famously tumultuous career.
The film-makers will cull behind-the-scenes footage of rehearsals and performances from the 1975 original and the 2005 revival.
"The story behind this new production and the 1975 original is as compelling as the show itself," Stern, who has produced 15 Broadway and off-Broadway shows including The Producers, Hairspray and Stomp, said.
"We look forward to bringing Every Little Step to the Cannes Film Market and know that it will resonate with buyers, and subsequently audiences, worldwide."
Stern and Del Deo previously collaborated on the documentaries So Goes The Nation and The Year Of The Yao.
Endgame is currently shooting The Brothers Bloom starring Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rinko Kikuchi, and is in pre-production on the teen thriller Solstice. Its credits include Todd Haynes' Bob Dylan title I'm Not There with Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Heath Ledger.
Italian locations: Empire Building
April 27, 2007
Though Italy may not be able to count on national production incentives to attract shoots from overseas, the territory figures high on international location managers' wishlists, thanks largely to its stunning locations.
Last year Martin Campbell shot parts of Sony's Casino Royale at Lake Como and in Venice, while parts of New Line and Catherine Hardwicke's The Nativity Story were shot in the ancient city of Matera, southern Italy - the same location used for Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ. Doug Liman, meanwhile, gained rare access to Rome's Colosseum for three days to shoot Twentieth Century Fox's adventure film Jumper.
Such location shoots - along with projects such as HBO/BBC mini-series Rome, which shot at Rome's Cinecitta Studios - have helped boost inward investment. In both 2005 and 2006, revenues from international productions shooting in Italy hit around $340m (EUR250m) - up from $280m (EUR207m) in 2004.
But despite the rise, the Italian industry remains anxious. The battle for production is global, and without incentives Italy risks being solely reliant on its locations to attract spend.
This was underlined by the recent announcement that Roman Polanski will shoot his $130m Pompeii, based on Robert Harris' thriller, at Spain's Ciudad De La Luz studios from August. Polanski scouted locations in Italy, but will now only shoot a few scenes around Pompeii.
Although a final deal has yet to be signed, Ciudad's business manager Jose Luis Olaizola says he believes Polanski chose Ciudad for the studio's coastal backlot: an obvious draw when considering Vesuvius and Pompeii are set against the sea. Production incentives available in Spain are also a draw for big productions. The producers of Pompeii declined to comment on the shooting of the production at this time.
Marco Valerio Pugini, president of the Italian Association of Production Service Companies (APE), says territories such as Spain and Germany are being "more aggressive" when it comes to offering incentives. "We risk losing jobs in the studio sector (without an incentive). If a production needs to be shot in Italy, they will shoot only exteriors," he says.
"The UK costs around 20% more than Italy"
Since coming to power last year, Romano Prodi's centre-left government has brought a new attitude to the film industry, and the national culture budget in particular. It has raised funds earmarked for all the arts by $600m (EUR441m), of which $100m (EUR73.5m) will be dedicated to cinema. While this may not seem significant fiscally, the local industry has welcomed it as a sign the new government is prepared to reverse trends set by Silvio Berlusconi, whose five-year stint as premier saw the culture budget slashed.
Culture minister Francesco Rutelli has also vowed a new film law is on the agenda - and it is being debated by government. One of the major issues under discussion is the introduction of tax-based incentives.
Anica, Italy's motion picture organisation, APE, and Cinecitta's board of directors are all lobbying for an incentive, and are hopeful. "A year ago I would have thought it wasn't possible," says APE's Pugini, "but many industry organisations have done a lot of work, everyone has fiscal incentives on their mind.
"It's a good sign that everyone is talking about it - the industry, politicians, government - there is support for it."
Meanwhile Pugini, who was partly responsible for luring Rome to the Italian capital from the UK in 2003, insists Italy is still a cost-effective place to shoot even without incentives. "The UK costs around 20% more than Italy," he says. Furthermore, the fact there were 250 sunny days in Rome, compared with 250 without sun in London, proved a clincher for HBO and the BBC when deciding where to shoot Rome.
Producer Barry Navidi, who worked in Italy in 2004 on Michael Radford's $24m (EUR17.7m) The Merchant Of Venice says the film did not suffer from a lack of incentives, pointing out the project sourced 10% of its budget from Italian co-production partner Istituto Luce.
"If you want a great result, Italy continues to be worthwhile"
Italy's network of film commissions is also working to attract international productions and is creating its own incentives. The Turin Piedmont film commission, for example, has put together an equity fund with the US's Endgame Entertainment which offers $5m-$25m (EUR3.7m-EUR18.4m) to productions that already have financing partially guaranteed.
Guido Cerasuolo, a Veneto-based producer who worked as a line-producer on Casino Royale and co-producer on Casanova, agrees courting film commissions is the way to go.
For Casino Royale, Cerasuolo obtained a 50% discount for shooting in Venice on condition 50% of the crew was local, an easy task since Venice has a strong audiovisual industry. When shooting on Lake Como, the Lombard film commission obtained a no-fly zone, and provided security and location staff.
As far as the competition from abroad is concerned, Cerasuolo offers a word to the wise: "If you want a great result, Italy continues to be a worthwhile place to come and film."
Italian locations: film commissions
Sheri Jennings in Rome
27 Apr 2007 00:00
Italy has 16 regional film commissions, all battling to create their own film funds and bolster production in their regions.
The undisputed frontrunners are the Turin Piedmont film commission and the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia film commission, based in north-east Italy, both of which offer cash funds for approved projects.
The Turin commission has just launched a $32m (EUR23.5m) equity fund in partnership the US's Endgame Entertainment under the newly formed Piedmont Film Company.
Projects with budgets ranging from $5m-$25m (EUR3.7m-EUR18.4m) and that have 75% of their budget secured, will be selected by an international committee looking for commercial prospects. The first projects will be approved in the autumn.
Meanwhile, the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia film fund provides cash grants from $6,500-$130,000 (EUR4,800-EUR95,600) to EU and non-EU TV and film producers that shoot in the region, depending on the length of time spent there.
Inspired by this example, film commission national co-ordinator Jacques Lipkau Goyard is convinced other commissions will follow suit and believes Umbria, Sardinia and the Campagnia regions could soon offer incentives.
Despite Rome - where Doug Liman's Jumper recently shot - and the central Lazio region being home to 80% of the national and international TV and film productions, the Rome/Lazio film commission is in transition as it absorbs the Rome Cinema Film Commission. The new commission aims to join five central regions and the capital, and offer incentives such as the reimbursement of VAT tax to non-EU productions.
Italy's other wine country ups film profile
April 11, 2007
ROME -- After hosting the 2006 Winter Olympics, Turin and Piedmont got on a metaphoric ski jump and launched a public/private film fund that may land the northern Italian region a gold medal.
The city of big boulevards, where Italy's first blockbuster, the 1914 Roman epic "Cabiria," was made, Turin has long been aching to regain status as a moviemaking hub, especially since the demise of automaker Fiat, which once gave it cachet as the country's automaking capital.
Starting last month, regional funds and equity coin from L.A.-based Endgame Entertainment have been combined to set up Piedmont Film Co., a $32 million "mixed" fund which, while relatively small, has the definite advantage of a direct Hollywood link.
"It's a unique model," says Giulia Marletta, the fund's promoter. "On the one hand, you have a public entity in the region that has an interest in investing widely and creating a strong economy in film and TV production.
"On the other, you have private investors who have an interest in financing product that will be profitable in the international marketplace."
Endgame -- whose titles include "Hotel Rwanda" and upcoming Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There" -- is putting up $20 million of the five-year revolving fund, with most of the rest of the coin coming from Piedmont's public coffers.
To be eligible, projects must be in the $5 million to $25 million range, with 75% of their financing in place, casting contractualized and 25% of the budget earmarked for spending in Piedmont. The key criterion for selection is international audience appeal potential. The first batch of pics will be greenlit in the fall.
Though the region comprises the dazzling Dolomites, Barolo vineyards, medieval castles and palatial villas, Piedmont/Turin film commish topper Stefano Della Casa has no illusions that productions can be lured merely by its visuals.
"If an Italian production comes to me and says: 'I'd really like to shoot in Piedmont, but Bulgaria is cheaper,' I can come back to them and keep them here by investing a few hundred thousand euros in their movie drawn from another fund I have for modestly budgeted local films," he says.
"But when it comes to higher-profile pictures, there is this new financial tool which is geared primarily -- though not exclusively -- towards American productions."
Lately, Piedmont has managed to lure a nice flow of Italo pics, including horrormeister Dario Argento's "La terza madre" (Mother of Tears) and Giuliano Montaldo's recently wrapped "St. Petersburg" epic, which used Turin as a stand-in for the Russian city. Marco Tullio Giordana's Fascist-era drama "Crazy Blood" will digitally transform Turin into Milan onscreen, and Carlo Lizzani's WWII drama "Hotel Meina" is shooting on the shores of Lake Maggiore.
"I don't even care about Turin being recognizable in a movie as long as I'm creating some jobs and fostering the industry here," Della Casa says.
Turin actually has a strong reputation for animation, with 50% of Italo toons produced there by companies such as Lanterna Magica, maker of toon feature "Aida of the Trees," and the city's high-tech Lumiq Studios, which also sports live-action stages and post-production gear.
The Piedmont commish also works in tandem with the Turin Film Museum, a venerable cinematic shrine housed in the historic Mole Antonelliana, and with the Turin Film Fest, under new artistic topper Nanni Moretti.
Still, it remains to be seen whether inventive enterprise and Alpine allure will add up to a burst of Piedmont-shot pics playing for global auds.
March 28, 2007
Firm: Stroock & Stroock & Lavan
The practice: Long known as a tax lawyer who literally wrote the book about the business -- it was appropriately titled "The Biz: The Basic Business, Legal and Financial Aspects of the Film Industry" -- in recent years, Moore, 51, has morphed into a kind of outside general counsel for a host of independent production companies.
Among his numerous recent projects: He did the legal work for ClickStar, the joint venture between chipmaking giant Intel and Morgan Freeman that produces original films for download shortly after their theatrical release; he is in the midst of a large financing transaction for Summit Entertainment; he is working on a foreign film fund for Endgame Entertainment; and he closed a Section 181 U.S. tax deal for Inferno.
Moore put together the deal on "Goal!" the soccer trilogy largely financed by Adidas.
He is helping Japanese film giant Kadokawa with further expansion. Plus, he's had his hands full as the general counsel of First Look, where CEO Henry Winterstern recently resigned.
Moore is a prolific writer, frequent speaker and popular adjunct professor at UCLA Law School.
POV: Moore, who is well known for his traffic-stopping pronouncements about the state of the entertainment business, had this to say about current film financing trends: "Bush has destroyed the dollar, and therefore film production in the United States has totally shifted. (The devalued dollar) plus state tax credits and no more foreign tax funds means it is now cheaper to shoot in the United States than foreign."
Endgame backs 'Every Little Step'
March 21, 2007
CANNES -- Endgame Entertainment will fund and produce "Every Little Step: The Journey of 'A Chorus Line,' " a doc about the Broadway juggernaut.
William Morris Independent is shopping world rights in Cannes.
Shooting began in 2005, capturing auditions of some 1,700 actors, singers and dancers vying for a spot in the 2006 revival. The pic will blend that footage with behind-the-scenes material from the original production, which began its marathon run in 1975.
Stern has also produced several Broadway and Off Broadway shows, including "The Producers," "Hairspray," "Stomp" and "Legally Blonde."
Engame Backs Piedmont Fund
March 16, 2007
ROME -- Los Angeles-based equity production firm Endgame Entertainment is throwing its weight behind the &euro25 million ($33 million) film promotion fund assembled by the Piedmont Film Commission, officials said Thursday.
Endgame will be the largest single contributor to the fund, adding &euro15 million ($19.8 million). The fund, billed as a public-private partnership, also will include cash from the regional government of Piedmont and several smaller private entities that were not named.
It also was announced Thursday that the fund will be operated under the auspices of a new organization called the Piedmont Film Company, which will have a five-year mandate to distribute the assets in a way that will promote the region as a hub for filmmakers and help boost the local economy.
"Turin is already a key location for films and this will make it even more attractive," said Giorgio Fossati, director of the Turin-Piedmont Film Commission. "Aside from Rome, Turin is the only city in Italy with all the resources needed by filmmakers, and this is yet another plus for the city."
According to the Piedmont Film Company, the fund hopes to back between 20 and 25 films during the fund's five-year lifetime, handing out investments worth between &euro1 million ($1.3 million) and &euro4 million ($5.3 million).
To be eligible, a film must be aimed at an international audience and spend at least 25% of its budget in the Piedmont region, including post-production.
A total of 13 films were shot in Piedmont last year, five more than in 2005. This year, projects in the works include the epic "St. Petersburg," from director Giuliano Montaldo, and Marco Tullio Giordana's "Crazy Blood," set in Fascist-era Italy.
The first projects to benefit from the new fund will be announced in September.
Endgame kicks off Italian fund
March 15, 2007
Endgame, an equity production fund whose upcoming slate includes Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There," and whose previously released titles include "Proof," "Hotel Rwanda" and "Lord of War," will put up Euros 15 million ($20 million) of the five-year revolving fund. The bulk of the remaining coin is coming from Piedmont's regional government.
The first-of-its-kind fund, called Piedmont Film Company, is being touted as ushering in equity funding in Italy, albeit in embryonic form.
Eligible projects will be in the $5 million to $25 million range with 75% of their budgets previously covered and casting contractualized, said the fund's promoter Giulia Marletta. Another requirement is that one-fourth of each pic's budget be spent in Piedmont, the Northern Italian region whose capital is Turin, host of the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Piedmont Film Commish topper Stefano Della Casa said a key criteria in selecting projects will be "their potential appeal for international audiences."
The Piedmont Film Company will begin selecting projects for feature films, TV movies, and various animation formats in September.
Ruffalo bursts into 'Bloom'
February 13, 2007
Ruffalo will portray the older brother in a conman team with Brody; Kikuchi, who's Oscar-nominated for her role in "Babel," will play the brothers' partner in crime who may be hiding secrets of her own. Ruffalo will be seen next in "Zodiac," "Reserveration Road" and "Where the Wild Things Are."
'Bloom' On for Brody, Kikuchi
February 6, 2007
Screenwriter-director Rian Johnson has cast Oscar winner Adrien Brody and Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi to join Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz in Endgame Entertainment's "The Brothers Bloom," an international con man adventure that is Johnson's follow-up to 2005's teen film noir "Brick."
The Weinstein Co. International is selling foreign territories at this month's Berlin International Film Festival; CAA and Cinetic Media are selling domestic rights. The project is produced by Ram Bergman and Endgame Entertainment's Jim Stern.
Endgame has raised equity financing for the film, budgeted at more than $20 million and scheduled to start production March 19 in 12 countries in Europe, Scandinavia and Asia.
Brody will play Bloom, the younger brother in a veteran team of con men who falls for a mysterious millionaire (Weisz) who turns the tables on them as they take on one last job after Brody threatens to quit the family business. Kikuchi will play the brothers' sexy and secretive accomplice.
"Brothers" reunites Bergman and Johnson, who teamed on the critically hailed rookie feature "Brick," which won the Special Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and was released by Focus Features. Stern has compared "Brothers" to "The Sting." Bergman hopes to bring the movie to the Festival de Cannes in 2008. Wendy Japhet, Endgame's new president of production, is the executive producer.
Johnson was wooed by Brody's "natural charm and intelligence," he said. "Rinko blew me -- and everyone else in the world -- away in 'Babel.' "
Brody won an Oscar for "The Pianist." He last starred in Allen Coulter's film noir mystery "Hollywoodland," and recently wrapped Wes Anderson's "The Darjeeling Limited" for Focus Features and completed a co-starring role opposite Penelope Cruz in Menno Meyjes' "Manolete."
Kikuchi earned an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel," her first American film. She landed the role of an exhibitionist deaf-mute teenager after she learned to sign in Japanese. Kikuchi also starred in Katsuhito Ishii's "The Taste of Tea," which screened at Cannes in 2004, Kazuyoshi Kumakiri's "Hole in the Sky" and "Tori/Kokorono Katana," directed by Tadanobu Asano.
Endgame Entertainment recently sold Todd Hayne's Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There" to the Weinstein Co. and produced and financed Daniel Myrick's supernatural thriller "Solstice." Previous productions include "Hotel Rwanda," "Proof" and "Lord of War."
Bergman produced "Brick," Sergei Bodrov's Kazakhstan epic adventure "Nomad," which Weinstein Co. will release in March, and the Mexican border drama "La Misma Luna," which sold to Fox Searchlight and the Weinstein Co. at January's Sundance Film Festival.
CAA represents Brody and Kikuchi.
'Brothers' lines up cast
Dylan film goes to Weinsteins
January 2, 2007
The Weinstein Co. has scooped up North American and U.K. rights to "I'm Not There," Todd Haynes' sprawling Bob Dylan biopic.
Company plans to release the movie, the first Hollywood dramatization of Dylan's life that the artist has blessed, later this year in the U.S.
Timed with the movie's release will be an ambitious soundtrack featuring dozens of Dylan songs as recorded by other musicians.
Movie, which Haynes co-wrote with Oren Moverman ("Jesus' Son"), takes an unusual approach to the biopic genre. Thesps including Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale and even Cate Blanchett play the singer-songwriter at six stages of his life and music.
"The folk Dylan had very little to do with the rock 'n' roll Dylan, who had little to do with the preacher Dylan," said producer Christine Vachon, describing some of the phases the actors will embody.
Vachon is producing the film via her Killer Films shingle, Jim Stern through his Endgame Entertainment banner. John Goldwyn and Jeff Rosen also produce. Cinetic's John Sloss and John Wells exec produce.
Pic, which Cinetic sold to TWC, had been shopped in the last few months to distribs, who were shown a portion of the film, currently in post.
Financing was arranged by Sloss. Celluloid has already made a number of foreign pre-sales to overseas distribs, including Happinet for Japan, Tobis for Germany and Bim Distribuzione for Italy.
Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin, David Cross and Bruce Greenwood are among the ensemble cast.
Randall Poster and Jim Dunbar supervised the soundtrack, which will feature artists as diverse as Willie Nelson and Yo La Tengo playing Dylan songs, as well as songs performed by Dylan himself.
Haynes, for whom "I'm Not There" is a passion project, previously directed another music-themed feature, the glam rock-centric "Velvet Goldmine," which the Weinsteins distribbed at Miramax.
In making the announcement, TWC's Harvey Weinstein said that Dylan has "lived an unbelievable and, at times, an elusive life" and that the movie would offer fans the ability "to really gain insight into his fascinating life."
After year of resisting artistic renditions of his life, Dylan has been more willing in recent years to allow others to interpret him and his music.
In addition to Martin Scorsese's critical fave "No Direction Home," Dylan authorized the short-lived Twyla Tharp legit production "The Times They Are A-Changin'." He also could write two more books to follow up on his bestselling "Chronicles: Volume 1" for Simon & Schuster, which owns the rights to those two tomes.
Although he is at an age when many musicians ease into retirement, Dylan routinely tours hundreds of days each year.