Monday, March 28, 2011

Here's a piece of artwork I had done for my proposal for Ghostkeeper 2. I always believed that offering some images in a proposal helps the potential investor actually see something. After all, movies are a visual medium.

The two storyboard frames here are a little overdone, being that the terrific artist added color and a bit of comic book visuals to the storyboard frame. Most storyboards are black & white sketches, far more economical and still illustrating the action.

The top wide-screen frame is a  scene in which two of the principal actors barely escape a gas explosion. The lower frame is the final big action scene with the creature being trapped. And finally the background scene is meant to be a poster of sorts, in which we see the creature in darkness and with snow falling. And red eyes. All horror movies should have red eyes.

And the very use of storyboards is quite eclectic, take for example the following quotes:

"For Duel, the entire movie was storyboarded"
                         - Steven Spielberg

"I sometimes storyboard, not always"
                        - Alfred Hitchcock

"I never make any storyboards"
                        - Bernardo Bertolucci

So there you go. No clear idea as to what one should do. So you end up doing whatever works for you. I had no storyboards on Ghostkeeper 1980 but I will do storyboards on the new movie. But not the whole movie.

I will storyboard the action scenes for the most part because that's the most visual part and it just helps to show the actors and the crew what my little mind is thinking.

But the odd thing is that storyboards are often disregarded when you're  on the set.

Going back to the proposal, most of them don't have visuals, but as I said, I like to put something in that the investor can see, I think it helps. But there's a hundred ways to impress an investor. Maybe a thousand.

So this week I pass out my proposal to several friends as well as two producers who might be able to help me find the nearly $2 million that I need. I'm getting out of town for a few days and going to Yosemite which will be peaceful and quiet mid-week and still early in the season.

And there I'll work out what comes next in terms of Ghostkeeper but also considering a screenplay to write for another Christmas season. And of course some mountain biking as well to "cleanse" the system. Always works for me.

One more thing; the artist who did this work talked about how a lot of movies start out as graphic novels and that it's becoming a common practice to do a graphic novel as a way of getting someone to fund a movie.

And we just might do that if the time frame works out.

Visuals. That's what movies are about.

(Thurs: Yosemite)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Crooks and Angels

First of all, good news on the re-release of Ghostkeeper 1980. The distributor has acquired 2 35mm prints that were in storage somewhere in NYC for probably almost 30 years. He has screened them and apart from some scratches at head and tail, which is pretty normal, they are both good.

What happens next is that he will transfer the 35mm film to digi-beta, which is the standard intermediate these days, and costly. But so far he's paying the bill. Naturally he'll get his money back before I see my share but this is also normal.

Distributors usually share income with producers, or in this case, me. But the key is that well-known game called "expenses". Something that the producer can rarely pin down. A receipt for $250 for a dinner could be for a potential sale -- or a great dinner for the distrib and his/her spouse. 

And it does happen.

The word on my distrib is that he's pretty honest, this coming from some people I know who have dealt with him. And he keeps in touch with me regularly which is also a good sign.

 But for many distribs, stealing is just "doing business". And it's been going on since movies began. There are probably a dozen cases each year in which a producer has to sue the studio or network or other distributors for money owed.

Director and producer Peter Jackson sued New Line saying he was underpaid by at least $100 million. Their usual claim is that the movie isn't in profit. Considering that Lord of the Rings has made at least nearly $1 billion, it seems unlikely that it's not in profit.

And that's where the fun begins as the studio lays out such a complicated structure of who gets what and how much that it takes years to figure it out, if ever. So it becomes a game of who can last longer. 

I did not see a penny from Ghostkeeper 1980, the investors got a mild return and the distributor died after a few years. But I learned my lesson and this time, will have a better deal. 

For what that's worth.

And then there's angels. 

The term comes from businessmen or "money" as they're often referred to (as in "he's the money") who appear at the last moment, just as a film seems to be faltering in raising the needed funds.

So there, like an angel, he/she appears not with glimmering sunlight, but with a briefcase full of money. And it happens more often than you think. 

But there's also a catch; these angels aren't always doing it for love of the movies; they're doing it because they can negotiate a deal in which they get paid even before the other investors.

As the old saying goes "why do you think they call it show business?" 

I'm still not at that point, all I've done is an "exploratory" as political candidates call it. But next week I begin to hold my hat out and hope that someone takes the first step. I do have  almost the rest of the year to raise the almost $2 million.

One of the ironies is that it's harder to raise $2 million than $50 million. This is because with a $2 million budget you're not going to get big stars (there is an exception which I'll tell you about), or big special effects or a comic book rip-off. What you get are actors nobody's heard of, or some 2nd or 3rd level actors, a short schedule and basically a drama, and dramas don't sell well. 

With $50 million you can get Dustin Hoffman or Robert DeNiro or the latest hot guy Bradley Coopper or maybe even Ryan Reynolds (whose appeal continues to defy logic). And the producers can make more money.

The exception to the b-actor movie is that now alot of movie stars are turning to low budget films, and not for the craft or the love of it; no, they have realized that one can be nominated for an Oscar in a good story made cheaply.

Take Nicole Kidman this year, and Annette Bening, both who did low budget character-driven stories. Michelle Williams, who has done big movies, did Wendy and Lucy, made for under $500k. 

But for now, I'm happy the 35mm print of Ghostkeeper will be released on dvd and other markets by late summer. And it's one step closer to shooting Ghostkeeper 2.

(Mon: Coincidences)


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lviv Art Gallery

You can't pass by this gorgeous building in Lviv and not wonder what it is. There are not many buildings with such big yards. We walked in the front door (surprised it was open) and found out the historic building housed an art museum! The biggest art museum in Ukraine, actually, and over 100 years old.

We wandered through the pretty rooms and saw paintings from all over Europe, though none by notable artists we recognized. We were hoping to see more art from Ukrainian artists (there was a small section). Some of the paintings were actually quite poor in quality and very black, but I wasn't very surprised. I can't imagine that the museum has much funding (most of the Ukrainians I know don't appreciate art very much). Maybe we were comparing it to the art museums we had visited in Paris and Vienna. With a little Google research, we found out that 150 paintings were confiscated by the Germans during WWII and never returned. So terribly rude of them.

The place was charming and old. The most creaky wood floors I've ever encountered. Yuriy and I felt the need to tiptoe, even though the place was deserted. At least you know the beautiful mansion wasn't totally renovated into a modern museum. A nice relaxing little break from the outside cold. 

We only had time for one floor of the museum, so we chose to go upstairs which had paintings. We completely missed the ground level, which has antique furniture.

Most of the photos are from the outside of the building. Photos inside the museum were not permitted and there were a few mean looking ladies following us around because they had nothing better to do (and we were the only guests). By now you know that didn't stop us. Our darn camera produces such loud shutter clicks which makes stealthy photos impossible, but we got a few on our little compact camera. 

- Julia

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pitfalls, scammers, crooks and angels

Money. Everybody wants money. It's the stuff dreams are made of (borrowing Bogart's answer in the Maltese Falcon).

And movies take a little bit or alot. You can make 2 feature films for $10,000 like my friend Randy did (see under links) or you can make Avatar for around $300 million.  And everything in between.

I remember the first time my friend and I raised $650,000 for Ghostkeeper in 1980. Today's inflated equivalent would be around $1.7 million. We had six investors and each wrote us a check out of their checkbook. Just like I would write a check for $50.

The checks were the same as mine, pictures of mountains or animals or straight bank green pattern. But they were for around $100,000 each. There's an interesting story about this wherein I almost lost the movie. I'll save it for the end of this blog.

How do you ask for $1.9? You say "I need $1.9 million very much."

To be honest, I'm not that good at raising it myself, if I was I wouldn't be a filmmaker. Very few of us are able to lie, for one thing. Maybe it's an artsy thing. And there are some who are good at it. My friend was really more responsible for getting the $650,000 and I was the color guy, you know, the artsy type who talks about images and pacing and atmosphere.

He was one of those who could raise money and he could talk investors into anything. And in fact he did.

The fact is that most producers who raise money will say or do anything to get it. They are scam artists, crooks and sometimes brilliant. And filmmakers need them. Neither really care for each other, but without each other, they're nothing.

I know, you're saying that I'm saying that you gotta have a crook to find money?

Well, yes.

But with a little bit of honesty if you can find them, and someone you can almost trust. There are honest producers, but they're mostly rich guys anyways and even they would rather you use someone else's money than their own.

Good producers are a little bit of con men, always have been and still are. How else can you sell a dream? You can't show an investor a movie, you have to have him imagine it with the help of a screenplay and a few storyboards and maybe even a 2 minute trailer. And it's no real indication if the movie will be good or if it will even get made.

So first you better know how to tell a good story. And good producers can do that. A friend of mine describes the best pick is "a guy (or girl) with a cheap cellphone and rent due. And if you don't believe me, read bios of producers, they will literally sell their mothers.

So what do they get out of it? Same as a car salesman, a commission. And the feeling that they raised the money, it's an ego thing too. And they help a filmmaker realize his or her dream.

But sometimes they can stab you in the back. Like Ghostkeeper, where our investment was a 100% tax shelter. But unknown to me, the investors also signed a loan agreement. That's the best of two worlds, if the movie flops, they get paid. If the movie makes money they get paid.

While that sounds great there's one big issue here; once the investor pays into a tax shelter that money, by government rules, has to be at risk. If it makes no money, the investor wins as he gets 100% of the shelter. Having a loan agreement also is actually against the law, you can't have it both ways, a tax shelter and a loan.

So I was called to a meeting where the investors decided to take the film over from me. All of a sudden I was alone. I hadn't repaid the "loan" because I was never told there was a loan and they had it in their loan contract that they could take over.

But I knew one thing. They couldn't have it both ways.

So I answered them by saying I would call Revenue Canada (same as IRS) and ask them what they thought. Naturally all investors knew what the tax guys would say, since they already filed for their tax shelters. They would say "you just broke the law".

It was over as fast as it began. The film remained mine.

And you know what, at least two of the investors still talk to me, we even have lunch when I'm back in Canada.

Can't live with them, can't live without them.

So Monday I begin talking to people who can recommend me to people who know people who can get money or find money from someone else.

And then there's angels.

(Thurs: More on crooks and angels)

Pharmacy Museum - Lviv

If our walking tour guide hadn't pointed out the Pharmacy Museum in Lviv, I doubt we would have ever found it. This would have been a real tragedy, because I think this is the most intriguing museum I have ever visited.

A humble sign on the corner of a building reads "Аптека Mузей" ("Pharmacy Museum"). Once you step inside, you might think you've stepped into any other pharmacy, just a little less modern. A woman in a lab coat stands behind a counter of medicines. Across from her, tall wooden shelves house colored glass bottles with medicine labels in Latin. Below the shelves, rows of wooden drawers are also labeled with medicinal names. On the four walls of the room, lovely frescos of the elements have been painted and named in Latin-- "Aqua" (water), "Ignis" (fire), "Terra" (earth), and "Aer" (air). Established in 1735, it is the oldest operating pharmacy in the city. A museum was opened in the adjoining building in 1966, and that's when it really became special.

After paying an admission price of about $1(!), we were allowed through the pharmacy back door into the museum. The museum has about 16 rooms stuffed full of antique medicine bottles, scales, appliances, pharmaceutical tools, records, and dishes, some thousands of years old. Every color of glassware belongs to a different pharmacy from the city, and joined together, they appear jewel-like and beautiful. The walls have images of famous chemists and doctors, and memorabilia from of all the Lviv pharmacies. The museum was empty besides Yuriy and I, so we poked around for hours amidst the beautiful old bottles and ancient scales. We half expected a crazy chemist with white hair and a toothless grin to appear with flasks and tubes. We followed the arrows downstairs to a basement that looks like a cave chiseled from rock (very similar to the caves we saw in Turkey). Here we finally encountered another person-- an old man was restoring some of antique shelves in one of the cave rooms. He looked old enough to know something about the museum so we pestered him with some questions. He explained that the basement was used to keep medicine cool and away from light. The barrels we saw stacked against a wall were used to hold wine for medicinal purposes. 

The Pharmacy Museum can be found on the corner of Stauropegiyska and Drukarska Streets.

- Julia

Most of the museum labels are written in both Ukrainian and English! Handy dandy.

P.S. I can't stop dreaming about an old apothecary cabinet with tons of little drawers for my home! Now that we're home, I am anxious to decorate and these photos get me every time. Been hunting...

Register of prescriptions from 1805-1807. Completely illegible to me. 
Old pill presses.
Isn't this doctor's scale delightful? It's so decorative.
Herbs, roots, bark, mushrooms... would we ever find this in a pharmacy back home? 
All the information and photographs were so cleverly and beautifully displayed behind multiple layers of glass with handwritten information written in gold ink on the glass. 
In the underground basement where medicine was stored away from heat and light.
These barrels were used to store wine for medicinal purposes.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Lviv Opera

In winter weather, outdoor activities become rather limited--no parks, lakes, swims, bike rides, picnics. Therefore one of our favorite date activities in the winter time is the theater (even at home in Seattle) where you can be indoors. We love it all-- plays, musicals, concerts, ballet.

The Lviv Theatre of Opera & Ballet is a gem. We were surprised to stumble upon such a beautiful and sophisticated building. Like we already mentioned before, the expectations we had for our home country were very low (probably because of how our parents talked about it). When we went inside to inquire about shows, my jaw dropped when I heard that tickets were just $5! We were in Vienna just a week ago, where tickets were $50-200. We bought two tickets for that same evening without a second thought. 

The show was called "Запорожець за Дунаем" or "Beyond the Danube", a traditional Ukrainian opera that premiered in 1863 and takes place in the Kozak period. Girls had long braids, colorful skirts, blouses with balloon sleeves, headdresses, and folksy embroidery. Men wore sharovary (wide trousers), cloaks, and interesting haircuts. Everyone was in boots. Yuriy and I were so happy to hear the songs and see the traditional dance and dress of our home country.

- Julia 

Classy coat check tokens.
A date isn't a date without a meal. Eating our favorite Ukrainian food after a Ukrainian show couldn't have been more perfect.  

We snuck in a little video when no one was looking!