Execs battle to save ‘La Mula’

Michael Radford locked out of post-prod'n

A financial and artistic wrangle between the three co-producers of helmer-scribe Michael Radford’s Spanish Civil War comedy “La Mula” (The Mule) continues to unfold, eight months after lack of funds halted filming.

Radford’s first foray into Spanish-language filmmaking, “Mule” made headlines when he suspended production Oct. 30, six weeks into a seven-week shoot, because coin from U.K. co-producer Workhorse, which is Radford’s own London-based label, and Ireland’s Subotica Entertainment wasn’t available.

The third, and lead, production entity is husband and wife team Alejandra Frade and Bruce St. Clair’s Madrid-based Gheko Films, which originated the project and brought Radford on board.

The root problems remains not only financing but also creative control, according to production sources, and the principals appear to have reached an impasse.

Lead producer Frade has yet to sign off on key inter-party agreements and other documentation — including standard form lab, collection agency and sales agent agreements — needed to unlock U.K. and Irish public funding and allow Workhorse and Subotica to cash flow their production commitments.

Frade told Daily Variety she would only sign a production settlement after Workhorse and Subotica paid their co-production financing into the production.

Workhorse tapped development coin and has a production award awaiting of almost £1.09 million ($1.5 million) from the U.K. Film Council; Subotica has been granted $614,500 for post production from the Irish Film Board, which is also making $61,450 available for Radford to complete “Mule’s” shoot.

“We have £1.09 million ready to transfer into the production bank account,” UKFC CEO John Woodward said. “But we won’t commit public money until the producers have finalized their agreement on the three-way co-production that was proposed to us in 2008,” he continued.

But Radford, Workhorse and Subotica have been locked out of post-production, and “Mule” has been cut by Gheko after an unidentified director completed shooting.

Because workhorse has been unable to trigger UKFC funding, “Mule’s” U.K. crew has not been paid, Radford added. Dublin post-production facility Windmill Lane has been paid “some but not all” it’s owed for f/x work, said Subotica producer Tristan Orpen Lynch.

James Hickey at Dublin law firm Matheson Ormsby Prentice is leading negotiations with Gheko’s legal counsel on behalf of Subotica, Workhouse, IFB and the UKFC to close a financing agreement.

Ignasi Guardans, director general of the ICAA Spanish film institute, has recommended third-party arbitration to Frade, but no arbitration has been agreed upon.

“I am absolutely committed to finishing ‘La Mula.’ Why would I abandon a film after two-and-a-half years work?” Radford told Daily Variety . “But I must be allowed to finish it in a way which respects my moral and intellectual rights.”

Frade said Gheko should finish post-production of “Mula” before the end of July. It has received distribution offers for Spain and aims at a fall release, she added.

For a film to be authorized and classified for commercial release in Spain, its producer must own all intellectual rights to the film, which is open to question in “Mule’s” case.

There’s also the question of how Gheko can release “Mule” when the negative is sitting at a lab in London.

Irish Film Board CEO Simon Perry said, “From the point of view of Ignasi Guardans, John Woodward and myself, this film cannot be completed, distributed or sold with a clean chain of title unless it is completed as a Michael Radford film with all the original co-producers.

“What’s sad is that ‘La Mula’ is a wonderful story, Alejandra Frade made exactly the right choice of director, and this is the film of Michael Radford’s life.”

Guardans’ concern is to prevent the situation endangering future co-productions with Spain, “and the basic trust that is needed for them to succeed.”

“We’ve had numerous co-productions with Ireland and U.K. that haven’t run into any problems,” Guardans added. “This is a real exception.”

Perry agreed: “Mule” is “a unique situation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Woodward emphasized that “the U.K. Film Council remains keen to support European co-productions in general and ‘La Mula’ in particular, just as soon as the three production companies can come to an agreement.”

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