This weekend was the Producer's Guild of America's annual "Produced by" conference held on the lot at 20th Century Fox.I was part of a panel that was discussing foreign co-productions, moderated by William Stuart, co-chair of the PGA International Committee, and including Ed Guiney from Element Pictures in Ireland, Judy Cairo producer of "Crazy Heart", Hal Sadoff an agent who specializes in financing at ICM, and Karen Robson, a lawyer at Pryor, Cashman with a lot of experience in this area.
The site was Scoring Stage 1 and it was a full house - although on the dais we could barely see the audience from the stage with the full-on high-beam lighting shining on us.
With the dearth of capital everywhere to finance independent films, combined with the busted model of the U.S. theatrical marketplace for anything but multi-thousand screen wide-release pictures, there is a lot of interest in learning about how to put films together with international partners and access the global network of government financial support for local film production that follows a complex web of various co-production treaties and the qualification requirements of individual countries.
But as Sadoff pointed out, even with so-called "soft-money" the name of the game today is to find private equity, as very few independent movies will get made without it in the hard-pressed sales marketplace today.
There was about a six year period in my life where I felt like I was working outside of the United States almost eighty percent of the time, on movies shot in England, Italy, Australia, Vietnam, Romania, China, Germany and elsewhere.
While other panelists were more qualified to talk intimately about the finances, I tried to share some of my experience working with multinational crews in foreign locations to talk about some of the subtler aspects that come to play for a creative producer dealing with issues of language, accent, cultural differences and misunderstandings, co-producing partners, censorship, and local crew and casting.
Any destination should be looked at in regards to locations, infrastructure, ethnicity of your extras for crowd scenes, shooting cost, available subsidies, safety, access, required permits, currency exchange rates, import/export limitations, and myriad other factors that will impact your project.
One thing I've found constant is the requirement to keep an open mind. Feature films are works of fiction, and in any fiction we use LIES to get at the deeper or artistic truth. Many great films were made continents away from where their stories were actually set, with filmmakers constructing and controlling the world within the frame that the viewer sees.
In the globalized world of cinema, a lot of old boundaries are falling, and the country of origin of many films gets harder and harder to discern. The world of international co-production, like all filmmaking, is full of surprise and challenges.
The most important thing is to do your homework and make sure that your "Roman Holiday" doesn't turn into "Midnight Express"!