OSCARS Q&A: 'All Is Lost' Producers Neal Dodson And Anna Gerb On Financing, Robert Redford And A 31-Page Script

Christy Grosz is Editor of AwardsLine.

A film with no dialogue about a man adrift at sea doesn’t sound like a slam dunk of a project, but All Is Lost producers Neal Dodson and Anna Gerb say J.C. Chandor’s pitch piqued their interest immediately. The project also had two key elements giving it momentum: First, Robert Redford agreed to play the lead. (“Bob was the only person J.C. wanted to try to make the film with,” Dodson explains.) And second, Chandor’s first feature, Margin Call, earned an original screenplay Oscar nom close to the time All Is Lost needed financing. Despite production challenges, Dodson and Gerb say intense preparation and storyboarding paid off in the end.

AwardsLine: You also worked with J.C. Chandor on Margin Call — how did All Is Lost come to you?
Neal Dodson: Basically, J.C. had been writing secretly — he’s not a big sharer of stuff until he knows what he wants to do. He had been writing before the Sundance Film Festival (in 2011) and then right after Sundance, once he had first come in contact with (Robert Redford). At (the) Berlin (International Film Festival), when we were there for Margin Call, he pitched the movie to me, (Before the Door Pictures producer) Zach Quinto and (FilmNation Entertainment CEO) Glen Basner. (He wanted Basner’s) perspective on if he thought this was an insane idea or if he thought there was a place in the international world to get something like this financed.
Anna Gerb: Not even a month later, (Chandor) handed each of us a 31-page document for us to read.
Dodson: It was one of those things where you go, “OK, this is a great outline for what you’re looking to do, but let us know when you’ve written the script,” and it turns out that was the script.
Gerb: It was very detailed so you felt a feature-length, action-packed, adventure-filled film within it, even though it was a lot leaner than most of the scripts we traditionally see.

AwardsLine: The film was independently financed — how did those details come together?
Dodson: Before Margin Call had come out and before the release and the awards attention, it was just based on people thinking (Chandor) was really talented. And J.C. personally went to Steve Beeks and the team at Lionsgate that had backed Margin Call on a distribution basis and said: “What is this worth to you on a domestic basis? Here’s what I need from you.” And they said yes. Then we tried for a long time to put it together through various equity partnerships, but pretty much everybody we explored was terrified, understandably so. We couldn’t quite get a deal that made sense, so Basner, to his credit, went off to Berlin (the following year, 2012) and sold a large chunk to Universal. Basically, it was just a global negative pickup where Lionsgate and Roadside took the domestic; Universal took a large slot with the rest of the world and a half-dozen other partners for South America and Germany and a few other countries. (Then) we borrowed the entire budget from a bank. So instead of having equity funding or any of those traditional methods, we took the entire value and figured out how to make the film for less than that, and we borrowed just under $10 million from the National Bank of Canada against those contracts, and consequently had total control.

AwardsLine: What were some of the production concerns you had to address, particularly with such a short and nontraditional script?
Gerb: We have no traditional set pieces whatsoever. It’s one man, almost like one long scene, out at sea. Most independent films are not challenged with marine departments and stunt departments and special-effects units and visual effects — we had all of that in abundance. So to put all those things together took a lot of creative, smart planning and finding solutions (to) pull this off in a very real and believable way. J.C. never wanted these stunts or special effects to be larger than what could be perceived in the realm of possibility. A lot of the department heads had worked on large films like Battleship and Life Of Pi that could afford all this equipment to pull it off. Not to say more money makes it an easier run in production, but it certainly can be helpful when you’re dealing with all these elements. In our case, everyone went back to the grassroots, when they were first starting out in the business, to really challenge themselves and do something they hadn’t done in years. And with a 31-page script, you almost have to envision each page as three minutes. J.C. ended up doing, I think, 500 storyboards. We had a master control room down in Baja (Film Studios, where much of the film was shot), and every wall was covered.
Dodson: The bond company was very freaked out. A really successful day on this movie—when some of the most complicated stuff happened—could be a quarter-page.

AwardsLine: Redford also did some of his own stunts. I was wondering about the scene in which he climbs up the mast.
Dodson: He’s a little scared of heights, it turns out. We’ve been joking the last couple days, which he’d get a kick out of, that his best acting in the entire movie was him pretending not to be scared as he went up the mast. Because the man was definitely scared.

  1. Fantastic film that the town seems to be waiting to see on screener. You tired old fools. Watch this on the big screen where it was meant to be experienced. Best Actor and Best Picture and far better than Gravity for dealing with identical themes.

  2. And in the end everyone lost his money. Couldn’t be a story better describing the miseries of independent film making

    1. ” Basically, it was just a global negative pickup where Lionsgate and Roadside took the domestic; Universal took a large slot with the rest of the world and a half-dozen other partners for South America and Germany and a few other countries. (Then) we borrowed the entire budget from a bank. So instead of having equity funding or any of those traditional methods, we took the entire value and figured out how to make the film for less than that, and we borrowed just under $10 million from the National Bank of Canada against those contracts, and consequently had total control.”

      curious how everyone lost money here. are you talking about distributors as there was no equity involved save for a private bridge loan?

      1. Yes Jimbo, I am talking about the Distributors who in addition to the MG’s also had to cough up the P&A. Also they are basically saying that they sold the movie to these distributors on an inflated budget, just to finally ending up making the film for much less than they originally claimed they would. This certainly triggered higher MG’s than the Distributors usually would have paid for a 10 Mio. film, hence they didn’t need the equity portion anymore.You can do that but I am not sure if I would have gone on record with this.

        1. Not saying your wrong Typhoon, but just want to point out that what they went on the record saying was “we took the entire value and figured out how to make the film for less than that” – key word being “value.” What this may mean is they sold it on Redford’s name and got his fee to far less than that value. Did they do a bunch of the other stuff you mentioned? Possibly. But that’s also on the buyers, they have to determine the value for themselves and offer a price or counter-price.

  3. Saw ALL IS LOST this weekend and it’s the real deal. Great filmmaking. Cool to read some of the backstory about how it got made. One of the things that struck me about the movie is that it sounds like almost an anti-movie: one man on a boat with no dialogue. Honestly I was expecting to be bored. But the movie works, and it works well. Here’s hoping more risky filmmaking comes out of this.

  4. Sofia Coppola won an oscar for a 31 page script without dialogue! Fortunately for her, Bill Murray supplied it.

  5. Typhoon – Your misunderstanding of independent film finance makes it hard to find a starting point. But here we go: we never inflated what we would spend. MGs are based on what any individual territory believes a film is worth for them. Not on specific budget or math for what part of a budget they will contribute. The market at Berlin said Redford alone in a JC Chandor film with this script was worth X. We made it for less. Why would I be concerned about going on record with that? No one is upset or feels ripped off. They got the film for a price they felt was fair. The film will be profitable for every single distributor that bought it, domestic and otherwise. Nothing to hide from or obfuscate.

    As for additional producer credits (2) and the remaining executive producer credits and all others: it’s a huge piece of how independent films get made. Almost always. The reasons vary from film to film, from credit to credit. Finders, hard-working partners of the producers, people on set grinding it out, etc. Also in this case financiers who intended to finance the film but ultimately the math didn’t feel like it made sense until all territories were pre-sold, at which point bank financing was the obvious path. But we honored their credits and they backed us anyway and stuck by the film with a bridge loan. Fair question. The PGA adjudication happened to assert who did the moment to moment work and clarify the credits.

    But again — nothing to hide from, and as Jimbo & Chris pointed out, there’s no reason independent film should be held to a different standard than studio films. No studio greenlights a movie thinking that the budget must equal or exceed the value to the marketplace. They assume the value will (hopefully) exceed the cost of the film. Same situation here. X script, X filmmaker, X project, and X cast = Y Value. Distributors pay for that value. If you can make the film for less than that Y value, fantastic.

    Cheers and all best. – Neal

  6. I don’t understand any of this stuff, but I do understand this: “All Is Lost” is a brilliant film, Redford is fantastic, Chandor’s directing, cinematography, editing, sound, music are all terrific, SO I WISH YOU GUYS THE BEST OF LUCK – UPWARD AND ONWARD!!

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