Three things that happened this week that made me question why I shouldn’t just throw in the towel (in addition to your monthly reading list below)…
1. I had been waiting over a week for an agent to call me back – this agent reps an actor who is attached to play the lead role in a film I’m producing. I had not yet spoken to this agent (I had been dealing with his manager), but we had exchanged emails the prior week. I decided to send the agent a nudging email saying, “I left word with your office last Tuesday…” and made mention of why I was calling, which prompted him to call me back later that day. He apologized for the long delay and said, “I saw your name on my call sheet, but I didn’t know who you were so I didn’t call you back.” Now, I had let his assistant know exactly why I was calling, but I didn’t want to throw that guy under the bus, so I brushed it off, but as I’m writing this, I still can’t believe the agent said those words out loud. The agent could have checked his inbox for our prior email exchange, he could have looked up my name on IMDB, or he could have just lied and said he was out sick. But he chose to say that my name had no instant recognition to him, so he completely dismissed me.
I am currently in the process of casting three different projects and have noticed over the last year that it has become increasingly more difficult to get agents to pay attention to independent films. The above project I’m referencing is with an actor of note on a project with an accomplished, award-winning director (not a first-timer), I have accomplished producing partners, and is not a super low budget film. But we are not yet financed and right now and we are in a time where agents are looking for the immediate, for the sure bets, for the Netflix movies.
So what we do? If you are casting your movie right now, look for actors with whom you have a personal connection or know someone who can make a call for you. Follow protocol by submitting to the actor’s reps first (I find managers are usually more responsive), but then use your personal connection to reach out to the actor directly. Perhaps an actor you’ve worked on a previous film has worked with the actor you are wanting to get your new script to – can you ask that person to make a call for you? Or maybe you are friends with a director who has worked with the actor you are trying to attach? Go to IMDB and look through the credits of the films the actor has been in and look for people you know who you can ask to make a call for you. This is the only way I’ve been able to move the needle forward and get my scripts into actor’s hands. You may be wondering why I’m not using a casting director, right? First, I don’t have money to pay for a casting director. Second, I find that I hit the same road blocks even with a casting director. Maybe the casting director gets their call returned faster, but if the film is not yet financed, it is not a priority to the agent. Find ways to circumvent the system, even for high level cast.
2. I had registered for the The Blacklist to be granted access to view scripts on the site to consider as potential projects to produce. To my surprise, I was denied access for the following reason:
Since our focus is writers, we ask that you as an industry professional have in the past worked substantially with WGA writers. While ultimately we may grant membership for other reasons, we generally consider those with recent work as a credited producer/ director/financier of a WGA-approved feature film/TV show or as an agent/manager representing a WGA writer. Actors will approved on a case-by-case basis.
It is correct that none of my past films have been with WGA writers. However, I have produced films that went on to be box office successes, which propelled the careers of the writers/directors, got them bigger films, which lead to them becoming WGA writers. Writers aren’t born into the WGA, they have to work with a signatory company to become WGA, which are the studios or bigger budget indies, which can afford the WGA minimums.
We are working in a climate where writers/directors of million dollar films get plucked out of the indie space and into the studio world to direct Disney and Marvel films and are presented with opportunities to step-up in budget size after a buzzy festival film, even if it isn’t a box office hit. However, the producer who put in the blood, sweat, and tears to produce that ‘director’s sample’ does not rise with that director (I do know a few rare occurrences where this has happened but it is the exception). So while no, my past films have not been with WGA writers, I do think I should be given some credit for launching the careers of writers who were then able to go on to become WGA writers and I think it is a huge disservice to the writers on The Blacklist to deny access to established producers who want to read their scripts.
On a side note, I was a creative executive at Lionsgate in 2005, the year The Black List was started by Franklin Leonard who was at the time, an executive at Appian Way (Leonardo DiCaprio production company). The list, “was compiled from the suggestions of over 90 film executives and high-level assistants, each of whom contributed the names of up to ten of their favorite scripts that were written in or are somehow uniquely associated with 2005 and will not be released in theaters during this calendar year.” I was one of those 90 executives who contributed that year and for several years that followed.
Every now and then Franklin Leonard will announce on Twitter that he is on a long flight with WiFi and posts, “ask me anything” so I responded and asked why he’s slighting producers in this way. I got a snide response back and was told I could reapply, but I said no thanks. You can see my posts @rebfive on Twitter.
3. The article How Film Producers Became the New Expendables: “There’s Panic and Confusion” was published and I’ve been a bit paralyzed since. I’m not going to go into it, read it yourself.
The one thing to note is at the bottom of the article, there is a chart that lays out all the producers who currently have studio deals. What stood out quickly to me is the lack of women and people of color on the chart so I did the math:
5 studios, 105 deals. Of the 105, only 15 are female producers. Of the 15 female producers, 8 are A list actors. Paramount Pictures and New Line Cinema do not have a single deal with a female producer. For people of color, out of the 105, 18 are POC but 8 of those are actors, 4 are directors and then there’s LeBron James. So really only 5 true producers. For women of color, there are only 4 and they are all actors: Issa Rae, Eva Longoria, Marsai Martin (who is only 15), and Janelle Monae.
At this point, my towel is ready to be thrown.
But then on Friday night after reeling from the Hollywood Reporter article for way too long, I saw WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE. I was a big fan of the book, but had read many negative reviews of the film so I went in with low expectations. While the movie no doubt has flaws, it also had me in tears by the end, however, in my post margarita wrap-up with my bookclub, I couldn’t quite pinpoint why. But then I read Michael Koresky review in Film Comment, which nailed it on the head… “WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is about love, but for an American film, it’s something even rarer—a film about the rekindling of a woman’s brilliant career.”
Often we have to see a movie to be reminded why we struggle and sacrifice to make movies. Even the imperfect movies have a way of giving you something you didn’t know you needed. I saw a piece of myself in Bernadette, a woman with an inextinguishable fire to create art, even if it meant she had to go all the way to the South Pole to do so. I left the theater feeling a little lighter than when I walked in and was reminded by Bernadette that I do not need to apologize for my commitment to creating art. And because of Bernadette, I will shake off points 1, 2, and 3 above and start tomorrow with a clear head so that I can create the experience I had for another woman sitting in the audience who is watching one of my future films.
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