“The film business is doomed. Get out now!” advised producer Ted Hope half-jokingly at a panel on producing Monday morning as part of Variety’s Village Cannes Conference Series.
The former Good Machine co-founder and partner in This Is That production company was offering his assessment of what he feels is the state of the American independent movie scene.
“It’s kind of pathetic,” he said. “You see the same film time and time again. Look at Sundance this year. The films might as well have had sequel numbers to them — heroin junkie with manic depression or big weddings.”
“Elephant” producer Dany Wolf said with many indie toppers like James Schamus and Bingham Ray hitching their wagons to major corporations, the task of making truly risky, envelope-pushing movies is more difficult than ever. “Everything needs to be safer.”
He added that once you get through the labyrinth of financing and casting — among other things — there is little chance to build an audience.
“Even with Matt Damon in our last film, ‘Gerry’ (directed by Van Sant) you only have a couple of weeks. The pressure is on to perform or get out.”
Dutch producer Kees Kasander who has the Peter Greenaway-directed “Tulse Luper Suitcases: The Moab Story” in Cannes competish, lamented that the type of films he makes could never be made in America.
Still, he perseveres because he wants to produce challenging, interesting films that get attention.
Much of the talk on the panel was about his “Ken Park” and its lack of distribution so far in the U.S. “It’s too dangerous,” he said of the Larry Clark teen pic.
Getting screens and keeping them was another topic posed by the moderator, Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos. Most panelists agreed the times are changing. Keeslander said American distributors have taken over all the screens in Holland, making it impossible for smaller movies to gain a foothold.
“We had ‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’ on a London screen for eight weeks. Now we would be lucky to get two,” he said. He added DVD is the only thing that gives hope for adventurous indie films being seen on a wider basis.
Hope agreed saying unless a film is competing in Cannes or wins at Sundance it’s hard to break through.
Michael Moore’s theatrical success with a documentary however was pointed out as a bright spot for those doc makers who want to see their previously tough to market films gain acceptance from exhibitors.
” ‘Bowling for Columbine’ put docs on the map. People went to see it and it has opened up opportunities for docs around the world,” said Michael Williams, producer of Errol Morris’ “The Fog of War” doc, which will be released this fall by Sony Pictures Classics.
The increasing need for co-productions and producing partners was also addressed with “Swimming Pool” producer Marc Missonier saying the necessity of pleasing financiers must not compromise the film’s integrity.
” ‘Swimming Pool’ is the case of a perfect co-production, but you shouldn’t twist creative elements to satisfy the needs of partners from other countries,” he said. “Still the good thing about multiple investors is that the producer is the boss.”
On the subject of what makes for a successful producer most agreed relationships are key.
“In France we are producing a lot of first time directors, including shorts and features,” said Missonier who started his relationship producing for helmer Francois Ozon when they were in college and have been successfully working together ever since.
Summing it all up Hope said being a successful producer is simple.
“You need strong relationships, to be productive and to show diversity. I would rather make a 10% profit on eight films than a 100% profit on one and have people be resentful.”