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In Features, Issues

OVERSEAS PITCH

By Jasmine Kosovic

THE CINEMART in Rotterdam. For years I’d heard about it – a one-of-a-kind place where smart, edgy, challenging movies go to find financing. Attending the CineMart this year was a great experience. What exactly my project will reap from it, however, remains to be seen. The CineMart is not a place, generally speaking, to seal a deal. Rather, it is a place to get the proverbial financing-ball rolling.

I went to the CineMart seeking $2.5 million to finance a film I am producing with Andrea Sperling entitled The Giggle Factor. We’ve got an amazing script, one of the best I’ve ever read, written by newcomer Amy Tebo. Jamie Babbit, who directed But I’m a Cheerleader, is attached to direct, and I think she’s the perfect match for the material. It’s a dark comedy dealing with heavy subject matter, things like child molestation, our crazed celebrity culture and the injustice of our justice system. All the while though, like Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful or Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, it keeps you laughing.

The CineMart was great for us because it forced us to focus on how to best pitch the project and whom to target for financing. We decided to have Jamie come with us because people are always more interested in hearing a director talk about how he or she envisions the making of the film than they are in hearing about it from anyone else (i.e. producers). We’d had the project at the Independent Feature Project’s No Borders a few months before. No Borders is closely modeled on the CineMart and, while smaller (it runs for three days rather than CineMart’s five), it attracts some impressive, largely North American, financing entities. The project garnered some serious interest there and got us thinking, in time for the CineMart, how we might be able to orchestrate a partnership with either another production company or a foreign-sales agent.

The CineMart was tiring, hope-instilling, eye-opening, civilized, relaxed. CineMart acts as a sort of a marriage broker between producers and financiers. While the Rotterdam Film Festival unfolds, the CineMart arranges half-hour meetings with potential financiers all day, every day, for five days straight. One of the best things about the CineMart was how open the Europeans were to the subject matter of our film. I think it might’ve been because they’re more prone to look critically at American culture than many Americans are. The most receptive were the French, the English and the Dutch. European production companies that finance via their governments (and it seems most of them do) have access to incredible government incentives (including some that are practically grants). All of them require that a given movie have some sort of indigenous component, such as shooting in the given country or doing post there, casting local actors or having the film be in that country’s language, and so on. The most aggressive incentives that we encountered came from Holland. And, the most ardent and enthusiastic interest in our project came from there as well. But their incentives require that the film be made in Holland. That could be fine for another movie – for example, Dancer in the Dark, which "takes place" in the U.S. but was actually filmed in Sweden and Denmark. Ours, however, is a real L.A. story and this approach could never work. The Germans were the least receptive, I think, mainly because the film-financing side of things over there is in pretty much of a rut. While I understand that there are still a lot of German funds, none of their representatives happened to be in Rotterdam this year.

I’m not yet in a position to name names, but one of our possible deals – a direct result of the CineMart – involves working with a non-American foreign-sales company. The best-case scenario for us would be for them to simply finance the film outright, distribute in their own territory and sell the rest of the world. However most of these companies are inclined towards only partial financing, thereby making the overall deal much more complicated. Foreign-sales companies are also all about star attachments. Sometimes these attachments seem even more important than what the film is about. Luckily, we have the script out to some great actors who also happen to be "names" in the eyes of these foreign-sales companies.

This year, for the first time, the CineMart and the Berlin Film Festival collaborated on the Rotterdam-Berlinale Express, whereby six CineMart projects (including ours) were presented to prospective financiers a week later in Berlin. The plan involved the filmmakers pitching their projects one afternoon in a 250-seat auditorium. Afterwards, the financiers would ask to meet with us if our project sounded interesting. To me, it wasn’t a particularly appetizing proposition. Pitching to one or two people is hard enough. And the arrangement also had the potential to instill a competitive vibe between the projects, something that was not the case in Rotterdam.

In Berlin, the room certainly seated 250, but there were only a total of maybe 30 people in attendance and none of them were financiers. Berlinale president Dieter Kosslick did crack a few funny jokes though. Afterwards, Andrea and I set off to hustle our own meetings. But at the Berlinale’s European Film Market, the sales companies and distributors are totally focused on buying and selling finished films. It’s hard to get them to care about a pitch.

While I’m not a fan of pitching to an auditorium full of people, I understand the need for it at a busy, crowded festival. If the Rotterdam-Berlinale Express continues – and I hope that it does because the idea is great – the organizers need to aggressively get people into the auditorium, particularly financiers who did not attend the CineMart.

While I wish I could have walked away from it all with a giant suitcase of cash, such an outcome proved impossible. After all, no one had even read our script going in! But the CineMart, like No Borders before it, allowed us to initiate relationships and deals that could get the ball rolling. It was also a fantastic opportunity to foster relationships that could come into play for the financing of other projects. No small beans that.

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