Foreign film sales execs took aim at Hollywood guilds and unions at the Independent Film & Television Alliance Production Conference today, citing them as the biggest roadblocks in getting indie films made. “I get it that stars like Bruce Willis are getting paid the big money, they are the driving force behind these films getting made, but I don’t get the guys who pull cables that make $100,000 a year,” said Voltage Pictures president and CEO Nicolas Chartier during the IFTA panel on indie finance and production.
Chartier, whose credits as producer include The Hurt Locker and Killer Joe, specifically cited SAG-AFTRA residuals, and how indie filmmakers are required to make deposits on residuals for films even if they haven’t generated revenue. “Residuals used to be based on movies playing on free TV. Hurt Locker and Michael Clayton never played on free TV, so why am I paying residuals two years before the movie is made?” he said. He added: “It’s getting worse: the amount of paperwork we have do with the unions. All we do is is contracts and collections. I came into this business as a writer with Cassian Elwes as my agent. Now, we’re lawyers, suing people and going to arbitration.”
Mark Damon, producer of 2 Guns and Lone Survivor and CEO and chairman of Foresight Unlimited, agreed. “SAG (SAG-AFTRA) requires you have to pay a performance bond — and you may not get it back. And you have to pay a residual bond which comes out of your budget upfront.” Michael Ryan, partner at GFM Films, which is behind the Monty Python-Simon Pegg comedy Absolutely Anything, remarked that “The UK unions used to be absolutely dreadful, but they’ve gotten better and the UK is a great place to make movies.”
Among the topics discussed at the panel — comprised of moderator Pierre David from Reel One Entertainment, Daniel Baur CEO of K5 International, Myriad Pictures president and CEO Kirk D’Amico and Hillary Bibicoff, attorney from Holmes Weinberg, PC — included how big actors’ bonuses on films such as 2 Guns prevent investors from getting paid. And if investors, especially those who are new in Hollywood, aren’t making money off of their films investments, they’re unlikely to return to the business.
D’Amico said one of the biggest problems for foreign sales agents is that U.S. feature distribution is still used by overseas buyers as the yardstick. “We started selling foreign on Margin Call when production commenced. But buyers didn’t consider it to be a theatrical release until Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions released it.” Margin Call was mentioned continually at the conference today as a success for the indie community. Elwes, the film’s executive producer, said the feature made $5 million theatrical, and $15 million on VOD off a $4 million budget.