First rule of filmmaking is no rules

Industryites gather for Film Finance Forum at Cannes

Speed and flexibility have emerged as the key components to producing successful feature films in today’s world, said speakers at the Intl. Film Finance Forum presented by Winston Baker in association with Variety in Cannes on Friday.

“What I want to preach is that there are no rules because we are in a world of on-demand and limitless innovation,” said lead-off speaker Randall Emmett, who’s made more than 70 films in a decade.

Emmett, appearing on the “Global State of the Industry: How to Get Films Financed and Made Today” panel, reminded the audience at The Majestic of the films he’d started in Hollywood with no money, sleeping on friends’ couches, encountering plenty of stumbles that turned out to be valuable insights along the way.

“I had to fail a lot,” he said. “By failing, you learn what not to do.”

Panelists agreed that the Hollywood majors’ focus on megabudget tentpoles has created more opportunities to supply other non-tentpole films at lower costs. “Producers can get actors at much lower rates than they could 10 years ago,” consultant Hal Sadoff noted.

But O’Melveny and Myers partner Joe Calabrese, chair of the firm’s entertainment, sports and media practice, warned that uncertainty will always pervade the film business. “You never know how a film is going to do before you open it,” he asserted.

Panelists also noted that the growth in markets outside the U.S. has been a tonic amid the cratering DVD market. Hype Park topper Ashok Amritraj said, “Every day I say thank god for markets like Russia, Brazil and China.”

The booming Chinese market was a prevalent topic among speakers and audience during the hourlong event. Asked about his Australian homeland, China Lion chief Greg Coote drew laughs by responding, “What I do is China, China, China, China, China, China, China, China.”

Coote predicted that Chinese box office, currently with only 9,000 screens, will surpass the U.S. box office in as few as five years. But even with the annual limit of foreign films allowed into the country lifted from 20 to 34, he admitted that the Chinese market remains labyrinthine, adding, “It will never get less complicated.”

And for now, China remains a mainstream market.

“They’re not interested in ‘The King’s Speech’ or ‘The Artist,’ ” Coote noted. “This is an action territory.”

Panelists also urged producers to aim their films at a specific audience and to budget in a way that makes economic sense.

“The devil really is in the details and it’s particularly important that you price according to value,” said Dan Steinman of CAA’s Film Finance Group in reponse to a producer who had found herself with a $1.8 million shortfall on a $7 million project when promised financing went away.

Amritraj also provoked laughs at one point by urging producers, “You’ve got to get your movies made quickly because December is the end of the world.”

The panel was moderated by Maggie Montieth, prexy of Dignity Film Finance.

In the following segment, “Smart Money Strategies: Applying Risk Mitigation Across Borders,” Worldview Entertainment topper Chris Woodrow noted that it’s become feasible to wait until post-production or festival showings to secure U.S. distribution. He pointed to Open Road and newly minted LD Entertainment, which is releasing Worldview’s “Killer Joe” with an NC-17 rating in July, as bringing creativity to challenging releases.

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