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Cannes 2017: Independent Producers Describe Process During Variety 411 Panel

By: Marjorie Galas

What are some of the keys that have enabled independent production companies and producers to consistently find and finance festival-worthy and award winning productions?  That was the motivating factor behind Variety 411’s recent webinar: Live From Cannes: Financing A Festival-Worthy Production.  Presented in partnership with Entertainment Partners (EP), the UK Film Centre and the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI), the panel brought together producers Kevin Chinoy (Freestyle Picture Company), Ed Guiney (Element Pictures) and Shawn Williamson (Brightlight Pictures) along with John Hadity, EVP, EP Financial Solutions, Film France Film Commissioner Melanie Chebance and Moses Nacahae, Partner, Film and TV Team, Saffery Champness.  Gathering at the UK Film Center Pavilion in the early hours of the fest, moderator Joe Chianese, EVP, EP Financial Solutions lead the hour long presentation, highlighting the panelists’ festival submissions, past accomplishments and changes to the current production incentive landscape.

The discussion began with a question many in the production world are wondering: how will Brexit affect incentives and shooting in the UK?    Nacahae indicated UK production is continue with a “business as usual” mindset.

“The government has indicated it will continue to support the cultural test,” noted Nacahae.

Nacahae continued by explaining that the current structure allows writing talent to qualify, and not just on up front cost.  Big names can receive big residuals, and the back end can continue to receive residuals.

“There are some shows that were shot seven years ago that are still receiving incentives, depending on how they were structured,” noted Nacahae.

Chianese noted that France was not just the host city of the festival and panel, but also boasts a very attractive package for production.  Chebance indicated that all projects, with the exception of documentaries and commercials are eligible for incentives.

“VR, webseries, all are eligible,” said Chebance.  She also noted the minimum spend on VFX was $250,000 to qualify, opening the door for small productions that utilize France’s VFX professionals and studios.

The president of Element Pictures, Guiney has made many festival appearances for films including “Room”, “Frank” and “The Magdalene Sisters.” Guiney described the process of securing a location for “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, which received the 2017 Cannes Screenplay award for writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos and co-writer Efhymis Filippou.  Element Pictures reteamed with Lanthimos, whom they worked on last year’s Oscar-nominated “The Lobster.”  Guiney described the location challenges of “Dear” what was was set in an unnamed wealthy US suburb.  The perimeters that would determine the location included leafy, high tech, and a hospital that would be accessible for the duration of the shoot:  there was no budget for building the sets.

“It made scouting hard,” said Guiney.  “We looked at tax incentives, infrastructure and hospitals.  We scouted in New York Toronto and other locations, but found Cincinnati had a great hospital and was a great place to shoot.”

Williamson, a prolific Canadian producer who works in film and television, was coming off the completion of the Netflix series “Haters Back Off!”  He noted that although Canada is easily bankable, the process is not quick.  He noted that producers had to be conscious of their above the line costs – 40% or move above the line will prevent a project from qualifying.  Hadity also pointed out that work permits can be a problem.  If American crew base does cross the border, the production will have to pay for crew that shadows their American counterparts.

A reteaming with director Sean Baker led Chinoy to his first Cannes Film Festival with their Director’s Fortnight entry, “The Florida Project.”  A producer on all Baker’s projects, their previous collaboration, “Tangerine,” led to a plethora of international film awards and nominations.   Chinoy revealed “Tangerine” initially received a budget of $50K, but Baker, eager to start, minimized costs by shooting the entire production on an iPhone.  Their budget ultimately was too small for the California tax incentive.  Hadity asked Chinoy if he felt he had to manage his expectations working with directors who wanted to shoot with basic, consumer equipment.  Chinoy explained he oversaw a plethora of tests, including the development of an anamorphic lens for the iPhone, that resulted in a high-quality, festival-worthy production.

“I suggest to people they just go and make it,” said Chinoy.  “Spend your money on your DP and your lenses.”

Utilizing formats that best serve the story, Baker decided to shoot “The Florida Project” on 35mm.  The production was in line for the Florida tax incentive, however the incentive dissolved before they were able to take advantage of it.   While Chinoy presented some other states that could fill in for Florida, Baker wanted to use specific locations crucial for the heart of the story.  Chianese pointed out that last year’s Oscar winning film, “Moonlight” – also done on a small budget – was shot in Florida despite the lack of an incentive to maximize the locations that were crucial to the storyline.

“It’s important to note, in some cases when the state is losing its incentive, cities are stepping up, such as Miami-Dade,” said Chianese.

Although the webinar was originally webcast on May 25th, the archived version of the event is available in its entirety.  Please visit: https://engage.vevent.com/index.jsp?eid=1584&seid=92